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Next round of NHL labour talks won’t focus on key issues

Gary Bettman (left) Commissioner of the NHL and Bill Daly, Deputy Commissioner and chief legal officer of the NHL leave the NHLPA offices in Toronto on Wednesday, August 22, 2012. Negotiations continue between the NHL and the NHLPA over collective bargaining as both sides try to avoid a potential lockout.

Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The NHL and NHL Players' Association likely won't discuss economics when collective bargaining talks resume this week.

The sides have agreed to sit down together in New York on Wednesday and Thursday, but deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Monday that he expects the conversation to cover secondary issues, including "health and safety, medical care, drug testing, rent and mortgage reimbursements [and] grievances."

Talks have been limited to ancillary topics since the lockout was enacted, including during two separate sessions last week.

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Daly indicated that he'd like to see economics and system issues — essentially how the sides split up league revenue — put back on the bargaining table soon.

The lockout entered its fourth week with the sides still entrenched in their positions on that fundamental issue. The players have insisted they continue to earn the US$1.871-billion they took home collectively last season while the owners are looking for an immediate reduction in salaries.

The ongoing work stoppage has already forced the NHL to cancel the first two weeks of the regular season, a move that wiped 82 games off the schedule and pushed opening night back to Oct. 25.

It's the third time in 18 years a lockout has forced the cancellation of NHL games, and Daly took a conciliatory tone in making the announcement last Thursday.

"The game deserves better, the fans deserve better and the people who derive income from their connection to the NHL deserve better," he said. "We remain committed to doing everything in our power to forge an agreement that is fair to the players, fair to the teams and good for our fans. ...

"We are committed to getting this done."

Donald Fehr, the NHLPA's executive director, believes a deal can be reached even if the parties aren't discussing the fundamental issue standing between them. He's maintained throughout negotiations that it's productive for them to continue talking and finding agreement wherever they can.

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"It's going to require sitting there and staying with it — even if it's unpleasant, even if people aren't saying anything new right away, even if you'd rather be doing something else — until you find a way to do it," Fehr said last week.

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