The players' association and league negotiators met separately Wednesday with federal mediators in suburban New Jersey, holding discussions that didn't appear to have moved the sides any closer to a deal to save the hockey season.
There was hope going into Wednesday that negotiations could get back on track to the point they were last Thursday before talks fell apart.
When the NHL agreed last week to increase its make-whole offer of deferred payments from $211 million to $300 million it was part of a proposed package that required the union to agree on three nonnegotiable points. Instead, the players' association accepted the raise in funds, but then made counterproposals on the issues the league stated had no wiggle room.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman then said that the offer was being pulled from the table. However, mediators asked the union on Wednesday, if that proposal was back in play, would the players take it or leave it?
"It wasn't much of a decision," said Brendan Morrison, one of 13 players to attend Wednesday's talks. "I thought the gap would be closed much quicker, but it hasn't come to fruition yet, so we have to keep working."
The offer wasn't actually resubmitted by the NHL. Neither side made any proposals Wednesday.
"There were discussions of the various issues involved and how far apart we are and where we go from here," players' association executive director Donald Fehr said. "I can't tell you that any progress was made."
All games through Dec. 30 have been canceled, about 43 percent of the season, along with the New Year's Day Winter Classic, and the All-Star game.
No new meetings have been scheduled.
Mediators rejoined the process Wednesday, at the request of the players' association, after they were unable to move the sides any closer to a deal during two days of talks last month.
Whether they will stay involved is uncertain.
"We did several different caucus meeting rooms, and really there's nothing new to report," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Wednesday, the 88th day of the league's lockout. "We don't have a conclusion to the process."
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After three straight days of talks between the sides ended last Thursday, Fehr began the first of his two news conferences by proclaiming he believed the sides had agreements on such issues as actual dollars, and then returned moments later to reveal the NHL rejected everything his side offered.
The 2004-05 season was lost completely before the players' association accepted a deal that included a salary cap for the first time. While no major philosophical issues such as that exist in these negotiations, the sides still don't seem be ready to come to an agreement.
"I never thought the issues were as big as they were back in 04-05," Morrison said Wednesday. "Apparently, I was wrong."
A 48-game season was played in 1995 after a lockout stretched into January. Bettman said he wouldn't have a season shorter than that.
The NHL wants to limit personal player contracts to five years, seven for a club to re-sign its own player, and has elevated the issue to the highest level of importance. The union countered with an offer of an eight-year maximum length with the variable in salary being no greater than a 25 percent difference between the highest-paid year of the deal and the lowest.
The other sticking points the NHL demanded of the players are a 10-year term on the new agreement, with a mutual opt-out option after eight years, and no compliance buy-outs or caps on escrow in the transition phase to the new structure. The union presented an offer of an eight-year deal with a reopener after six.
No owners were with Bettman and Daly on the NHL side Wednesday, but the union had plenty of players in tow: Morrison, Craig Adams, Adrian Aucoin, Brad Boyes, Chris Campoli, Mathieu Darche, Shane Doan, Ron Hainsey, Jamal Mayers Andy McDonald, Steve Montador, Douglas Murray, and Daniel Winnik.
Press; By IRA PODELL]
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