NHL, players to continue talks

NEW YORK -- The NHL and NHL Players' Association held secret talks at an undisclosed location in Manhattan for a second straight day Wednesday and plan to meet again Thursday.

The latest bargaining session, which lasted almost six hours, included discussions on two key issues that have separated the two sides: revenue sharing and the league's "Make-Whole" provision to honor players' existing contracts, a source told ESPNNewYork.com.

The two sides, who have met three times in the past five days, first tackled revenue sharing. Although the NHL repeatedly has downplayed the significance of the practice, the league spent more than three hours discussing the matter Wednesday.

"The National Hockey League's negotiating committee met with representatives of the National Hockey League Players' Association for approximately 5-1/2 hours today" NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. "Meetings are scheduled to resume tomorrow. We do not intend to comment on the substance or subject matter of today's negotiations."

"The NHLPA and the NHL met today to discuss many of the key issues. We look forward to resuming talks tomorrow," NHL executive director Donald Fehr said.

The union wants to see an enhanced revenue-sharing system -- one that would require lucrative clubs to help out struggling teams -- as a fundamental part of the new collective bargaining agreement. In the league's last offer, submitted last month, they offered $200 million, up from $150 million in its previous offer.

The more compelling issue facing the two sides, however, is the "Make-Whole" provision.

Prior to last weekend's clandestine session between NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr and Daly, the two sides were divided on how the provision would work. The league originally proposed deferred payments that ultimately would reduce the players' future share, whereas the union wanted the owners to bear the responsibility.

It is believed that the league has shown a willingness to bend on the "Make Whole" mechanism and absorb some of the financial commitment. It remains unclear, however, how much the league would be willing to shoulder with respect to the damage incurred because of the lockout.

Daly said that $720 million in revenue had been lost when the league was forced to cancel all regular-season games through Nov. 30, although he has not offered any new estimates since the NHL canceled the annual Winter Classic last week.

Neither side was made available to the media Wednesday night, although Donald Fehr did address the media before Tuesday's session, when the two sides resumed discussions for the first time in weeks.

Asked about the significance of the league's movement on the "Make Whole" issue, he intimated that alone would not forge a deal.

"It doesn't end the matter," Fehr said. "There are still other things that are important, but it certainly would matter in and of itself.

After months of public posturing and sniping across the negotiating lines, the sides have adopted a more tight-lipped policy as negotiations seem to have intensified. Neither the league or the union has divulged details of the negotiations or characterized discussions since Tuesday.

Tuesday marked the first formal bargaining session since a disastrous proposal-swapping debacle in Toronto on Oct. 18. The two sides met for more than seven hours and discussed contracting issues, a source told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun.

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, an active participant in the process, was among eight players to attend the latest session. Some players, including Crosby, left New York to try to avoid an impending storm that brought snow to the area, the union said.

Time is becoming a bigger factor every day a deal isn't reached. The lockout, which went into effect Sept. 16 after the previous CBA expired, already has forced the cancellation of 327 regular-season games -- including the New Year's Day outdoor Winter Classic in Michigan.

Whether any of the games that have been called off through Nov. 30 can be rescheduled if an agreement is made soon hasn't been determined. But the NHL already has said that a full 82-game season won't be played.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.