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Labour stalemate remains after NHL, NHLPA hold face-to-face meeting

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman listens as he meets with reporters after a meeting with team owners, in New York, Sept. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman listens as he meets with reporters after a meeting with team owners, in New York, Sept. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

TORONTO - A face-to-face meeting between top officials from the NHL and NHL Players' Association wasn't enough to break their labour stalemate.

The sides spent almost five hours together Monday going over accounting for last season, but didn't emerge with any plan to resume collective bargaining talks. In fact, the topic wasn't even raised, according to representatives from each camp.

Nine days into the lockout, negotiations remain on hold with both the owners and players entrenched in their positions.

"Obviously, we've got to talk before you can get a deal, so I think it's important to get the talks going again," said deputy commissioner Bill Daly. "But you also have to have something to say. I think it's fair to say we feel like we need to hear from the players' association in a meaningful way because I don't think that they've really moved off their initial proposal, which was made more than a month ago now."

Steve Fehr, the NHLPA's special counsel, declined comment following the meeting.

Neither NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr or NHL commissioner Gary Bettman attended the meeting. But the two men took in an NHL alumni dinner Monday night and Daly indicated the sides were expected to make further contact on Tuesday.

The parties last sat down together on Sept. 12, when the NHLPA presented a proposal that was quickly countered by the league. Neither offer gained much traction and the NHL locked out the players three days later.

Not only are the sides far apart on financial issues—they are roughly $1-billion apart based on the latest proposals—but they've also failed to find agreement on process.

While the league has remained adamant about the need for the sides to discuss only the economic system that governs the sport, the union has said it would be willing to continue negotiations on the other aspects of the agreement that need to be worked out.

In the meantime, players have started predicting it will be another prolonged lockout. Rick Nash told a Swiss reporter last week that the work stoppage could span an entire year and Detroit Red Wings forward Danny Cleary repeated that sentiment after an informal skate on Monday.

"Just trying to be realistic," Cleary told the Detroit Free Press. "I think the league is waiting for us to make the move, and we're waiting for them to move. So someone has to move. And I don't see it coming from our end.

"We've given them a couple of good options that they can work with, and they, obviously, feel it's not good enough."

Daly isn't willing to entertain the notion that the season could be lost. The league has called off September's exhibition games, but he remains hopeful an agreement can be reached in time to start the regular season as scheduled on Oct. 11.

"I'm hoping that some of (the players') pessimism is almost an intentional pessimism because certainly that's not where our mindset is," said Daly. "We don't want an extended work stoppage, we don't want to miss any regular-season games. That's going to be our mindset until we have to cancel some."

There was one piece of good news for the players Monday. Daly indicated that they will likely end up receiving almost all of the 8.5 per cent in salary that was held back from them last season in escrow—guaranteeing at least one decent payday next month.

They are due to receive the first of 13 paycheques for the upcoming season on Oct. 15, but that appears less and less likely with each day that passes without meaningful negotiations.

Still, Daly believes the sides are "light years" ahead of where they found themselves in 2004, when three months went by after the beginning of the lockout before talks started.

"We've been talking within the same framework, we've had a lot of discussions about a lot of ground in a lot of the other areas we need to," he said. "But obviously we still have a financial divide we have to find out how to bridge."

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