Owners and players return to table but no closer to deal

Wed Dec 12, 2012 8:36pm EST

National Hockey League (NHL) Commissioner Gary Bettman gestures as he describes negotiations between the NHL and the NHL Players Association regarding the difficulties of their current labor negotiations in New York, December 6, 2012. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

National Hockey League (NHL) Commissioner Gary Bettman gestures as he describes negotiations between the NHL and the NHL Players Association regarding the difficulties of their current labor negotiations in New York, December 6, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

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(Reuters) - National Hockey League owners and players returned to the bargaining table on Wednesday in a late push to salvage a scaled down season but the two sides appear no closer to reaching a deal.

After negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) collapsed last Thursday amid angry rhetoric, talks resumed at a secret location with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and players union chief Donald Fehr, joined at the table by U.S. federal mediators, according to local media reports.

It marked the second time mediators have been brought in to try to jump start stalled negotiations that have now dragged on for nearly three months.

Owners locked out players on September 15 when the current CBA expired, plunging the league into its fourth work stoppage in 20 years.

Few details of the meeting have emerged other than there were no face-to-face negotiations, with mediators meeting both sides separately.

No new proposals were exchanged and there was no word on whether talks will continue.

The two parties returned to bargaining as pressure mounts to reach a deal or risk having the entire campaign wiped out like the 2004-05 season.

Bettman has said he cannot see the league playing less than a 48-game regular season schedule, and with 526 games, or more than 40 percent, of the season already canceled, time is quickly running out.

The two sides appear to have inched closer on the main sticking point of how to divide $3.3 billion in ice hockey related revenue.

The league is seeking an immediate 50-50 split while players, who will see their share chopped from 57 percent, want the cuts brought in gradually with a "make whole" provision in place to cover money that would be lost on current contracts.

Several other contentious items remain on the table, including the length of a new CBA and contract limits to drug testing and continued participation in the Winter Olympics.

While players and owners talk the losses continue to mount on both sides.

The NHL has said the lockout is costing it between $18-$20 million a day while players, with games canceled up to December 30, will miss six pay cheques.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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