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NHL labor talks expected to resume Wednesday

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NEW YORK (AP) - This time, NHL owners and players are staying apart for just one day.

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Negotiations aimed at ended the league's lockout are expected to resume on Wednesday, following a brief break in talks. Before Monday night's 90-minute session, it had been eight days since the sides got together.

Whether the players' association will bring a new complete proposal, as requested by the NHL on Monday, to the next round of talks remained uncertain. But the union huddled for internal conversations after negotiations ended, and continued talking on Tuesday - pushing further bargaining back a day.

``It looks like tomorrow,'' NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press in an email Tuesday. ``No other details at this point.''

The lockout entered its 66th day on Tuesday and has already wiped out 327 games. More cancellations could be coming soon without a new deal.

While neither side offered much insight following Monday night's talks, there didn't seem to be any of the anger that reportedly existed when the previous negotiations ended a week earlier. Both sides looked forward to when they would reconvene to try to reach the elusive deal that would end the lockout that has already shortened the season and threatens scrap it completely.

``We talked about various things,'' union executive director Donald Fehr said Monday. ``No new proposals were made, they were not expected to be made. We had hoped to engage them in a discussion about the player-contracting issues that are so important to the players. At least (Monday) they were unwilling to do that.''

The prevailing question is when will one side say something the other really wants to hear. These negotiations have been going for a while, yet there hasn't been any kind of breakthrough to pave the way to a new collective bargaining agreement.

Both sides know the lockout has inflicted a lot of damage on the sport that produced record revenues of over $3 billion last season. Every day of lost time is hurting everyone, and at some point owners and players will have to decide how much of the losses each side will have to absorb.

``I think every week is important in the process,'' Daly said Monday. ``I don't attach a particular significance to this week over last week or next week. I want to play tomorrow.''

The league contends it is waiting for the players to present a full proposal on all the major issues - including core economics and player contracting, which deals with the entry-level system, arbitration and free agency. After the request was made, the players' association asked for a break and the meeting adjourned soon after.

``We've never heard a full proposal from them,'' Daly said. ``They have given us a variation of the same proposal on economics a couple of times and there was no change in that position. They are still suggesting that they are moving in our direction on economics, but until we know exactly what their position is on economics now, we think it's all tied together and would like to hear it all together.''

Union representatives, along with 18 players who were in attendance, returned to the players' association office to have discussions among themselves. It is unclear if talks will continue through the Thanksgiving holiday if progress is made on Wednesday.

The players tried to put the focus on player-contract issues on Monday night before returning to specific revenue and economic areas, but the NHL wasn't interested in that because the league considers everything to be intertwined.

Neither side wants to agree to anything, or make concessions in one single area, without knowing how those will affect other parts of the CBA that still need to be negotiated.

``Our position all along has been on the player contracting issues that they become considerably more important to players as the cap becomes limited,'' Fehr said.

After turning down a suggestion from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to take a two-week break from negotiations, the union requested another meeting with the league. That produced Monday's get-together.

``We could've taken a couple of weeks off, I suppose,'' Fehr said. ``It's hard for me to see how you make an agreement if you aren't talking, so you talk. Sometimes it doesn't lead anywhere, and perhaps very often it doesn't lead anywhere, but if you aren't talking it's 100 percent sure it doesn't lead anywhere.

``They were willing to have the meeting if we said we wanted to meet. That is about as far as I can go.''

Daly said the NHL is always willing to listen if the players have something meaningful to say.

``We're never going to shut down the process,'' he said. ``If they think there is a reason to meet and we can make progress, we're happy to meet. That's what we told them and that's what led to today's meeting.''

It was the first bargaining session since Nov. 11, when a busy week of negotiating wrapped up without results. All games through Nov. 30 and the New Year's Day Winter Classic have been called off. More games - including the All-Star game in Columbus, Ohio - could soon be axed, too.

One area in which the NHL hasn't budged is in the area of guaranteed money to players. The league wants a percentage split of actual hockey-related revenue instead of a promised dollar amount to players based on projections of how the game will grow.

``If their proposal continues to be a guaranteed amount of player-share dollars, we have told them that that is not a proposal that is acceptable to us or would ever to be acceptable to our owners right now,'' Daly said. ``If that continues to be where we are, we are a long way apart.''

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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