NHL

NHL, union meet with mediators

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Whether federal mediators will provide enough help to end the NHL lockout in time to save the hockey season is still unknown.

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At least they had a good first day.

Negotiators from the NHL and the players' association returned to the bargaining table Wednesday for the first time in a week and the first time with outside voices contributing to the talks.

The location was secret, and so was what was discussed, but the talks went well enough that the sides will be back at the negotiating table Thursday.

''No comments,'' was all NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly would say Wednesday night in an email to The Associated Press.

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr issued a short statement, saying: ''A small group of NHLPA staff and players met today with two experienced FMCS mediators. We expect that these discussions will resume on Thursday.''

It was the first meeting between the sides since a get-together that lasted just over two hours last week in New York after the locked-out players' association made a new comprehensive proposal that was quickly rejected by the NHL.

The sides agreed Monday to use the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. George Cohen, the service's director, assigned deputy director Scot Beckenbaugh and director of mediation services John Sweeney to the negotiations. Beckenbaugh and Sweeney met separately with the two sides before talks began in full Wednesday.

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It wasn't immediately known how long negotiations went on before they ended in the early evening.

In the previous meeting last week, Fehr said the sides were $182 million apart in a five-year deal, which comes to $1.2 million annually for each of the 30 teams.

The NHL wants to increase eligibility for free agency to 28 years of age or eight seasons of service, up from 27 years or seven seasons. The league has also proposed adding a year of service for salary arbitration eligibility, hiking it from 1-4 to 2-5 years of service, depending on the age a player signs.

On Oct. 16, the NHL proposed a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue, down from the players' 57 percent portion of $3.3 billion last season. With guaranteed contracts likely to push the players' share over the halfway mark at the start of the next deal, management wants that money to come out of future years to bring the overall percentage down to an even split over the length of an agreement.

Players previously had proposed they receive a guaranteed amount of income each year.

Fehr said players proposed they get $393 million over the length of the deal, while the NHL is at $211 million. Owners want a seven-year deal, which the union says is too long because less than half the current players will be active by the last season.

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This is the league's third lockout since 1994. The first was settled on Jan. 11 and the last one led to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announcing the cancellation of the 2004-05 season on Feb. 15. That marked the only time a major professional North American sports league lost an entire season because of a labor dispute.

This lockout, which reached its 74th day Wednesday, has already forced the cancellation of all games through Dec. 14, the New Year's Day Winter Classic, and All-Star Weekend that was slated for Columbus, Ohio, in January.

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