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After a week of little communication, informal labour talks resume between NHL, NHLPA

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Representatives from the NHL and the players' association held informal negotiations on Friday at the league offices.

With the expiration date on the current collective bargaining agreement—Sept. 15—drawing near, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, and his top assistant and brother, Steve Fehr, sat down with commissioner Gary Bettman and his deputy, Bill Daly, for a status check after a week of little to no communication.

The two sides last held formal discussions last Friday, but those ended with Donald Fehr telling reporters the talks were in a "recess."

Players have often flanked the Fehrs for support in the process, and Friday was no different. Winnipeg defenceman Ron Hainsey, Minnesota forward Zenon Konopka and Buffalo defenceman Robyn Regher were on hand in New York.

The league has said it will lock the players out if a new deal isn't reached by the 15th.

"(We're) trying to find a way to bridge the gap," Donald Fehr said. "That's always the intent."

Negotiations, throughout the summer, have taken breaks during weekends. But with the deadline nearing, there's a good chance the two sides meet on Saturday.

"We expect discussions to resume," Fehr said. "We don't know yet."

Bettman confirmed the meeting lasted two hours on Friday, and as he has been through the most of the process, he remains optimistic.

"We'd like to make a deal," he said, refusing to characterize the mood of the morning session. "There is an ebb and flow to negotiations.

"It's always good to have dialogue."

Meanwhile, teams around the league are preparing for a stoppage. On Friday, in a conference call to announce a new deal for forward Brad Marchand, Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli said the Bruins cancelled an upcoming rookie camp and tournament. The Detroit Red Wings did the same thing last month.

When talks broke off last week, the NHLPA responded to an offer from the NHL with changes to an earlier proposal. The union's most recent offer came three days after the NHL made its first counterproposal last Tuesday. After asking the players to cut their share of hockey revenue from 57 to 43 per cent, the NHL upped its proposal to have the players get a 46 per cent share over a six-year deal.

The union revised its initial offer by proposing to restructure the fourth and final year of its initial offer. The NHLPA was willing to give back between $465 million and $800 million in revenue over the first three years of the deal as long as the system switched back to the existing agreement in the fourth year.

Donald Fehr countered by proposing "several concepts" in which the players would get less than 57 per cent of revenues in the fourth and final year. The NHLPA, however, is still asking NHL owners to establish a revenue sharing program to help struggling teams.

Bettman called revenue sharing "a distraction" and questioned whether the union made an actual counterproposal or a mere response to the league's presentation.

The union has questioned the NHL as to why it is attempting to have players bear much of the burden of cost savings, especially after the league reported record revenues topping $3.3 billion last season.

Aside from asking the players to take an across-the-board cut in their share of revenues, the NHL is also seeking to place severe limits on free agency while also abolishing players' rights to salary arbitration.

The NHL has had three labour disputes since April 1, 1992, when players held a 10-day strike that forced 30 games to be rescheduled. The most recent two were lockouts.

The regular season is scheduled to begin on Oct. 11.

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