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NHL negotiations stretch through dinner hour for second straight day

A nearly empty hockey stick rack in the Buffalo Sabres locker room is shown in Buffalo, N.Y., Sept. 25, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, David Duprey

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A nearly empty hockey stick rack in the Buffalo Sabres locker room is shown in Buffalo, N.Y., Sept. 25, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, David Duprey

NEW YORK, N.Y. - With a snow storm in Manhattan making it feel like hockey season on Wednesday night, the NHL and NHL Players' Association held another long bargaining session in a bid to get the game back on the ice.

The top negotiators spent more than five hours discussing revenue sharing and the "make whole" provision and were expected to continue with those topics when talks resumed Thursday.

Bargaining has taken on a new level of urgency this week. Privately, the sides acknowledged that they are engaged in meaningful back-and-forth negotiations for the first time, which helps explain their decision to meet in an undisclosed location and refrain from making public comments afterwards.

On Wednesday night, neither the NHL or NHLPA gave an update on progress.

The lengthy meetings seemed to suggest a push was on to save as much of the disrupted season as possible. Once a CBA is eventually ratified, a source indicated it would likely be 10 days before the puck could be dropped on meaningful games—a span that would see players given three days to report to their teams and seven days for training camp.

With the NHL locked in its fourth work stoppage over the past two decades, tension seems to be rising from all corners of the sport. Pockets of owners and players are believed to be exerting pressure on their leadership to get a new deal, while Molson Coors CEO Peter Swinburn, whose company is a major league sponsor, told The Canadian Press in an interview that the brewer would seek compensation from the NHL when the lockout ends.

"There will be some redress for us as a result of this," said Swinburn. "I can't quantify that and I don't know because I don't know the scale of how long the lockout is going to last."

The labour dispute has clearly inflicted some short-term damage on a league that hauled in a record US$3.3-billion in revenues last season.

With all regular-season games through Nov. 30 having been cancelled, along with the Jan. 1 Winter Classic, the negotiations are at a delicate stage. The sides are finally in a position to get some momentum going after meeting for a significant amount of time over consecutive days, but failing to emerge with progress could also end up bringing about another quiet period.

Plenty of work remains to be done at the bargaining table, starting with the "make whole" provision that is viewed as an important hurdle to cross before reaching a new deal.

The sides seem to have agreed that the players' share in revenue will drop to 50 per cent at some point during the next CBA. The union wants assurances that all of the contracts agreed to under the previous system, which saw players receive 57 per cent, will be made whole—meaning they'll be paid out in full.

After agreeing to take less revenue, the NHLPA doesn't believe it should have to offer concessions on the contract issues that were covered Tuesday. The league has proposed changes to unrestricted free agency, entry-level deals, arbitration and contract lengths.

Revenue sharing is another important issue, with the NHL having already proposed increasing its annual pool of funds to approximately $200 million each season. The union asked for even more and is seeking to restructure the way that money is distributed.

While refusing to make any predictions about how soon a deal might be struck, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr sounded an optimistic tone on Tuesday afternoon prior to negotiations resuming for the first time since Oct. 18. He indicated it could be a start to the push for a new deal.

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

All signs indicate that a concerted effort is being made. This is the first time in a number of weeks that talks have stretched over three days and Daly called off a planned trip to Ottawa, where he had been scheduled to visit Parliament Hill on Thursday to speak to a committee about sports betting.

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