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NHL, union end two days of talks without resolution

After two days of negotiations, the NHL and the players’ association appeared no closer to a deal that could save the hockey season.

Representatives from the league and union met for 4 1/2 hours Thursday in Toronto, the second straight day the sides held discussions in an attempt to end the four-month lockout.

The sides also held a five-hour meeting in Chicago on Wednesday, but they remained divided on the idea of cost certainty, a concept the players’ association says is an unacceptable salary cap.

As was the case on Wednesday, there were breaks in the negotiations so each group could huddle separately.

“We’ve had two good days of communication,” said Bill Daly, the NHL’s chief legal officer. “But we still have very strong philosophical differences.

“I can’t say we’re any closer.”

Following the two-day session, the only thing the sides appeared to agree on was that they are still far apart.

“We clearly have some strong differences of opinion that we’ve had for some time,” said Ted Saskin, the players’ association senior director. “We continue to look for ways to bridge the gaps. We have not been successful in doing so.

“We have no current future meetings scheduled, but the lines of communications continue to be open.”

More than half of the regular season — 671 of 1,230 games through Thursday — has been wiped out so far, plus the All-Star game.

This latest setback again pushes to the forefront the possibility that there will be no hockey played this season.

“We all know time is not an ally,” Saskin said.

If the season is wiped out, the Stanley Cup wouldn’t be awarded for the first time since 1919, when a flu epidemic canceled the final series between Seattle and Montreal. The NHL would then become the first major North American sports league to lose an entire season because of a labor dispute.

There was hope that progress could be made this time without the presence of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and union chief Bob Goodenow, who were kept out of the meeting in an attempt to have discussions without acrimony that has built up between the two leaders.

This two-day meeting marked just the third time the league and players’ association held face-to-face talks since the lockout was imposed Sept. 15.

“Obviously, everybody understands that the window of time we have in terms of playing hockey this season is very short, so hopefully we can have some more discussions,” Daly said.

Each side had a three-man team in place on Wednesday, and the only change Thursday was the absence of Calgary Flames part-owner Harley Hotchkiss.

“We didn’t reach an agreement. We didn’t exchange proposals, nor was that the intention,” Saskin said. “The intention was to have dialogue which we did achieve here.”

Union president Trevor Linden, a center with the Vancouver Canucks, initiated the talks with Hotchkiss on Wednesday, and enough progress was made to quickly schedule a second meeting. But that good feeling appeared to be somewhat lost in Toronto, the same place talks broke off last month.

“I think everybody knows the players have been very interested in finding a basis on how we can move forward,” Saskin said. “We recognize that to do so we have to do it through discussions, and that’s why Trevor started this initiative.”

Daly joined Hotchkiss, and outside counsel Bob Batterman in representing the NHL on Wednesday; Linden, Saskin, and outside counsel John McCambridge represented the players.

“There was more of a give and take about elements of the system and the way it operates and the leverage points,” Daly said. “I give Trevor Linden a lot of credit, enormous credit, for getting us together.

“I think the dynamic of the last two days has been the best dynamic we’ve had to date.”

Hotchkiss didn’t go to Toronto because he was attending the funeral in Calgary of J.R. (Bud) McCaig, another member of the Flames’ ownership group who died last week. Saskin took part in Thursday’s meeting, despite the death of his mother a day earlier.

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