By IRA PODELL, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — If time spent at the bargaining table indicates progress, the NHL and the locked-out players' association finally could be on their way to making a deal to get hockey back on the ice.
A second straight day of marathon negotiations took place Wednesday, when the two sides spent more than five hours hammering away at the most contentious issues separating them. Coupled with the more than seven hours they spent negotiating on Tuesday, owners and players have been together about 13 hours and are ready to get back to it on Thursday.
Neither side tipped its hand about what was discussed or if the talks were successful, and the location of the meetings is still being kept secret.
"The National Hockey League's negotiating committee met with representatives of the National Hockey League Players' Association for approximately 5½ hours," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement Wednesday night. "We do not intend to comment on the substance or subject matter of today's negotiations."
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr also said very little after the sides wrapped up the latest round of talks.
"The NHLPA and the NHL met to discuss many of the key issues," Fehr wrote in his statement. "We look forward to resuming talks (Thursday)."
Those issues include revenue sharing between teams and the "make-whole" provision, which involves the payment of player contracts that are already in effect. The lockout will be entering its 54th day Thursday, and there is still much to be done to work out the differences to reach a deal that will allow the already delayed and shortened season to begin.
Thursday will mark the fourth time in six days that face-to-face negotiations have taken place after the sides both rejected proposals on Oct. 18.
Along with a handful of team owners, eight players attended Wednesday's talks, five fewer than Tuesday. Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and others left New York to try to avoid the impending snowstorm that hit the area, the union said.
There already was common ground before negotiations began Tuesday. The players' union adhered to the league's request to keep the meeting location a secret. With no outside distractions, the sides talked from afternoon until night. Then they did it again on Wednesday
Once they broke for the day, neither side gave any hint of what was discussed or if progress was made, but both pointed to the next round of talks. Steve Fehr met with Daly on Saturday, and neither provided many details of what was discussed, but both agreed that the meeting was productive.
Time is becoming a bigger factor every day a deal isn't reached. 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 already has said that a full 82-game season won't be played.
Back in October, the players' association responded to an NHL offer with three of its own, but all of those were quickly dismissed by the league — leading to nearly three weeks without face-to-face discussions. Daly and Steve Fehr kept in regular contact by phone and agreed to meet last weekend.
Both sides have made proposals that included a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues.
The NHL has moved toward the players' side in the contentious issue of the "make-whole" provision and whose share of the economic pie that money will come from. But work remains to get an agreement done.
Other core economic issues — mainly the split of hockey-related revenue — along with contract lengths, arbitration and free agency also will need to be agreed upon before a deal can be reached.