What's the problem? Issues that divide

NEW YORK -- It sometimes seems that getting the NHL and its players on the same page schedulewise is like herding cats.

When the two sides broke around 1 a.m. ET Thursday after a daylong session that saw the NHLPA allow a self-imposed deadline to file a disclaimer of interest pass, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters a federal mediator asked the two sides to return to the table at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Yet the NHLPA had planned a conference call to update its membership for Thursday morning, so the two sides won’t be getting back together until later in the day.

Still outstanding are three key issues, although sources on both sides of the dispute indicate they are not the only issues that stand between the league and a return to the ice.

Player pensions and how they are funded: Bettman explained that the issue is complex while acknowledging the issue is important to the players.

Salary cap for the 2013-14 season: The league is holding firm to its desire for a $60 million cap, down from a prorated $70.2 million this season. The league wants to protect the salary cap minimum for smaller-market teams (the floor would be $44 million), while the players would like to see the cap higher, about $65 million, to help the flood of free agents who will hit the market next summer, even though that has the potential to drive up player escrow pending revenues. The players are not seeking a cap on escrow, though. Also, the NHL upped its compliance buyout offer to two per team (up from one) prior to the 2013-14 season to help teams get under the year two cap. Buyouts still count against the players’ share but not against the team’s salary cap.

Cap on contract length: This has been a major issue for the league and players, although the owners did move off their "hill on which they will die" demands for five-year limits on contracts for players -- six if the player being signed is already with the signing team -- in their last proposal, moving to six, plus the extra year for signing their own players. The players don’t believe there should be any term limits.