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NHL talks will resume this week

Despite optimism, both sides remain far apart on many issues

SHARE NHL talks will resume this week

NEW YORK — The NHL and the players' association will resume talks this week in a bid to save the season — and they'll meet yet again without commissioner Gary Bettman or union head Bob Goodenow.

"The league contacted our office to arrange for continued small-group discussions. We agreed to this request," players' association senior director Ted Saskin said Monday.

The sides met twice last week without Bettman and Goodenow. Those meetings, over two days in Chicago and Toronto, were initiated by Vancouver Canucks center Trevor Linden, the NHLPA president.

Linden, Saskin and outside counsel John McCambridge represented the players. NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly, Calgary Flames part-owner Harley Hotchkiss, and outside counsel Bob Batterman took part for the league.

Again, the sides are hoping to sit down in secrecy. Neither group would reveal the time or location of this week's talks.

"The NHL and the NHLPA agreed to resume collective bargaining meetings this week," Daly said in an e-mail statement. "Neither side will be disclosing the date(s), time(s), or location(s) of the meeting(s) scheduled. We both believe that the process now will be better served by a less-public approach to the negotiation."

The lockout reached its 131st day on Monday and has already forced the cancelation of 699 of 1,230 regular-season games, plus the All-Star game.

No proposals have been made since early December, when the players offered a 24 percent rollback on all existing contracts as part of a luxury-tax and revenue-sharing system. The NHL turned that down and made a counterproposal five days later that was quickly rejected.

The NHL might be set to make a new offer this week.

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.

Optimism was expressed last Wednesday after the first day of meetings when Linden and Hotchkiss had a chance to talk one-on-one. The good feeling didn't carry over to the next day, though, and Linden reportedly told players in a recorded message on the players' Web site that the NHL was still insisting on a salary cap and that the season would likely be canceled.

Daly said he was surprised that Linden came away from the meetings with that opinion because the NHL felt that some progress was made. But both sides admitted that there were still strong philosophical differences.

The NHL wants the new deal to give clubs cost certainty — a link between revenues and player costs. The union says that amounts to an unacceptable salary cap.