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Hockey Lockout optimism softens but dialogue will continue

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman faces journalists following collective bargaining talks in Toronto on Thursday October 18, 2012.

The Canadian Press

While the sense of optimism around the NHL labour talks on Wednesday was less than the previous day, the fact both sides said discussions will continue Thursday was taken as a good sign.

However, at the end of Wednesday's six-hour meeting in New York neither the NHL nor the NHL Players' Association would speak to the media. All either the owners or the players would say is that after 13 hours of discussions over two days they will meet again Thursday.

"The NHL's negotiating committee met with representatives of the NHLPA for approximately five and a half hours today," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement released by the league. "Meetings are scheduled to resume tomorrow. We do not intend to comment on the substance or subject matter of today's negotiations."

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NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said the same in a statement released by the union.

Most of the discussions on Wednesday concerned revenue sharing, a major issue with the players. The biggest issue for the players, the "make-whole provision" in the owners' last offer, finally made it into the discussions later Wednesday but the details of the owners' offer to pay for at least part of it is still not known.

Wednesday's meeting got off to a late start, around 3:30 p.m. local time, after it was expected to start at 1 p.m. According to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com, the delay was due to a lengthy internal meeting by the NHL Players' Association. Eight players, including superstar Sidney Crosby, attended Tuesday's session with the same number on Wednesday. But Wednesday's group had some different players as some, including Crosby, left New York ahead of a snow storm that hit Wednesday evening.

Mathieu Darche of the Montreal Canadiens, Kevin Westgarth of the Los Angeles Kings, Ron Hainsey of the Winnipeg Jets, Shawn Thornton and Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins, Manny Malholtra of the Vancouver Canucks and David Backes of the St. Louis Blues planned to attend Wednesday's meeting.

Revenue-sharing has not received as much media attention as the "make-whole provision" and a 50-50 split in revenue between the owners and players but is important to the players. They feel that if they are to accept a reduction from the 57 per cent of revenue they received under the former collective agreement, the owners of the big-revenue teams need to do more to ease the losses of the smaller-revenue teams.

While the owners did propose an increase in revenue sharing in their last offer, which was taken off the table when talks broke off Oct. 18, the players are looking for more.

However, what will ultimately determine if a new collective agreement can be reached in time to save the season is the make-whole issue. When the players reduce their share of the NHL's hockey-related revenue from 57 per cent to 50 at some point in a new agreement, doing so means existing contracts will be subject to cuts through escrow. Escrow is the practice of withholding a portion of players' salaries until a final accounting of HRR is done in the summer. If the amount the owners paid out in salaries turned out to be more than 57 per cent, they received a refund from the escrow account and anything left was returned to the players.

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In their last offer, the owners proposed to "make whole" the players' existing contracts by reducing the players' share of revenue in later years. This was rejected by the players as paying themselves and the NHL owners re-started the talks this week by saying they were prepared to pay at least some of the cost out of their revenue share. The details of that have not been revealed and will be the key to getting a settlement and saving the 2012-13 season.

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