NHL Making Progress But No Agreement In Sight

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Seven hours of meetings between representatives of the NHL and the NHL Players' Assn. on Tuesday in New York produced at least one key agreement: that they had enough reason to reconvene Wednesday to continue exploring resolutions to the labor dispute that has wiped out more than a quarter of the schedule.

Negotiations between the NHL and the locked-out players' association lasted deep into Tuesday night, and went well enough that the sides agreed to return to the bargaining table for more talks Wednesday.

Both sides kept details close to the vest after the meeting that lasted more than seven hours. That also could be taken as an optimistic sign that the second round of talks in four days went well.

The marathon session — on Day 52 of the lockout — was held at an undisclosed location in New York, at request of the NHL, in order for the sides to be able to talk without any potential distractions.

"Collective bargaining negotiations between the National Hockey League and representatives of the National Hockey League's Players' Association recessed tonight at 10:15 p.m.," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement. "With meetings scheduled to resume Wednesday, the league will not characterize the substance or detail of the discussions until their conclusion."

Not only were Daly and union special counsel Steve Fehr there, as they were for a long session by themselves Saturday. They were joined by Commissioner Gary Bettman, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, a handful of team owners, and 13 players including Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who has been an active participant in the process.

"We're hopeful that we'll start bargaining and we'll continue bargaining until we find a way to make a deal," Donald Fehr said Tuesday before talks started. "Sometimes that goes in rather long sessions with short breaks and sometimes you take a few hours or half a day or a day to work on things before you come back together. I don't know which it will be.

"We certainly hope we'll be continuing to meet on a regular basis. I hope they do, too. I'm just not making any predictions."

Fehr's brother, Steve, 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. That was proven when the sides agreed to quickly meet again Tuesday. There had been no negotiations since talks broke off Oct. 18 until Saturday.

"The players' view has always been to keep negotiating until we find a way to get agreement and you sort of stay at it day by day, so it's very good to be getting back to the table," Donald Fehr said. "We hope that this time it produces more progress than we've seen in the past, and that we can find a way to make an agreement and to get the game back on the ice as soon as possible.

"We're hopeful that we'll start bargaining and we'll continue bargaining until we find a way to make a deal."

Time is becoming a bigger factor every day that passes without a deal. 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.

People familiar with the nature of the talks but not authorized to speak publicly said progress had been made, but both sides declined to describe specifics of the sessions, which were attended by top executives of both sides as well as 13 players and several owners.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly confirmed that collective bargaining talks had ended at 7:15 p.m. Pacific time and would resume Wednesday. He added, "The league will not characterize the essence or the detail of the discussions until their conclusion." A spokesman for the NHLPA said the sides will meet again Wednesday at an undisclosed time.

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