With the 2012-13 season on the line, the NHL and NHL Players' Association were back at the bargaining table in Woodbridge, N.J. on Wednesday, as both sides tried to find common ground in finalizing a new collective bargaining agreement.
The two sides met separately with federal mediators for more than six hours and the NHLPA then met internally before having further discussions with the mediators. The details of those discussions are to be forwarded to the NHL, after which the league will make a decision on whether or not to arrange to meet again on Thursday.
Neither side made any proposals and it appears doubtful the meetings will continue on Thursday.
"We did several different caucus meeting rooms, and really there's nothing new to report. We don't have a conclusion to the process," said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly following the afternoon session.
"There were discussions of the various issues involved and how far apart we are and where we go from here. I can't tell you that any progress was made," added NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr.
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Both the NHL and NHLPA met with U.S. federal mediators Scot L. Beckenbaugh and John Sweeney rejoining the process as a one-day exercise. By mediators' advice, there was no face-to-face discussions between the players and NHL. There was no change in either side's position from when talks broke down last Thursday.
Both mediators first met with league and union leaders last month before deciding they couldn't help negotiations along.
The NHLPA announced that 13 players will take part in the negotiations, including Craig Adams, Adrian Aucoin, Brad Boyes, Chris Campoli, Mathieu Darche, Shane Doan, Ron Hainsey, Jamal Mayers, Andy McDonald, Steve Montador, Brendan Morrison, Douglas Murray, and Daniel Winnik.
The NHLPA continued to push for mediation when players and owners gathered in New York last week and the NHL eventually agreed. However, Daly acknowledged Tuesday that he would carry "no expectations" into Wednesday's session.
"I thought the gap would be closed much quicker, but it hasn't come to fruition yet, so we have to keep working," said Morrison.
Mayers called the league's proposal "take it or leave it" and expressed frustration that the two sides are close in numbers but still far away from an agreement.
TSN's Darren Dreger stressed that the calendar may not be on the side of either party in attempting to salvage as much of the 2012-13 season as will be possible.
"This has been a long and, at times, a very heated negotiation but both sides are looking again at that big picture and the reality is that this negotiation could go into early January, maybe mid-January before it genuinely reaches its breaking point," he said after Wednesday's talks had broken.
Three days of negotiations last week between the owners and players gave some hope, but again ended without an agreement. Last Thursday, the union had initially stated progress was being made, as NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said they were close on certain monetary numbers, but he later re-emerged to meet the media and said owners rejected the players' latest proposal.
Daly and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the league had made concessions monetarily but there was no progress on the length of the agreement and the length of player contracts. The NHL wants a 10-year labor deal with an opt-out clause after eight years, while the union has offered an eight-year contract with the ability to re-open after six years. As for player contracts, the NHL wants to limit them to five years - seven if a club re-signs its own player.
Bettman said last week the league wouldn't have a season of less than 48 games - the same length of the lockout-shortened campaign of 1994-95. The latest round of cancellations has taken out 48.2 percent of the original 2012-13 schedule.