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NHL, union back to bargaining table

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NEW YORK (AP) - The NHL and its players' union kept talking Wednesday, a day after they met for more than seven hours in an effort to end the nearly two-month-old hockey lockout.

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The sides negotiated on a new collective bargaining agreement past 10 p.m. Tuesday and immediately announced they would reconvene. They started up again at an undisclosed location, and were fully prepared to talk well into the night.

As the lockout reached its 53rd day, it was expected that owners and players would further discuss the ``make-whole'' provision, which involves the payment of player contracts that are already in effect.

A day after NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr spoke to reporters before meeting with the NHL, neither side made any pre-meeting comments.

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, an active participant in the process, was among eight players in attendance for the latest session. Some players, including Crosby, left New York to try to avoid an impending storm that brought snow to the area, the union said.

The sides got together Wednesday for the third time in five days, including a weekend session between NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and union special counsel Steve Fehr, Donald's brother. Before that there had been no face-to-face discussions since Oct. 18.

Daly and the Fehrs were joined on Tuesday by Commissioner Gary Bettman, a handful of team owners and 13 players.

There was already common ground before negotiations began Tuesday. The players' union adhered to the league's request to keep the meeting location in New York a secret. With no outside distractions, the sides talked from afternoon until night.

Once they broke for the day, neither side gave any hint of what was discussed or if progress was made, but both pointed to the next round of talks.

``The league will not characterize the substance or detail of the discussions until their conclusion,'' Daly said in a statement Tuesday night.

Steve Fehr met with Daly on Saturday in a secret location, and neither provided many details of what was discussed, but both agreed that the meeting was productive.

Time is becoming a bigger factor every day a deal isn't reached. The lockout, which went into effect Sept. 16 after the previous collective bargaining agreement expired, has already forced the cancellation of 327 regular-season games - including the New Year's Day outdoor Winter Classic in Michigan.

Whether any of the games that have been called off through Nov. 30 can be rescheduled if an agreement is made soon hasn't been determined. But the NHL has already said that a full 82-game season won't be played.

Back in October, the players' association responded to an NHL offer with three of its own, but all of those were quickly dismissed by the league - leading to nearly three weeks without face-to-face discussions. Daly and Steve Fehr kept in regular contact by phone and agreed to meet again last weekend.

Both sides have made proposals that included a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues.

The NHL has moved toward the players' side in the contentious issue of the ``make-whole'' provision and whose share of the economic pie that money will come from. But work will need to be done to get an agreement on the hot-button topic.

Other core economic issues - mainly the split of hockey-related revenue - along with contract lengths, arbitration and free agency will also need to be agreed upon before a deal can be reached.

The players' association accepted a salary cap in the previous CBA, which wasn't reached until after the entire 2004-05 season was canceled because of a lockout. The union doesn't want to absorb the majority of concessions this time after the NHL recorded record revenue that exceeded $3 billion last season.

``The issues the players are concerned about remain the same,'' Donald Fehr said Tuesday. ``The players haven't seen any need to go backward, given the history of the last negotiations and given the level of revenue increase since then. Player-contracting rights are very important to them.

``Before we have any agreement, both sides have to see everything on paper and make sure that they all understand it right. That's about all I can say about it at this stage. I don't want to prejudge or indicate that I have any particular impressions or expectations. That's what the meetings are for,'' he said.

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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