Labor talks to resume next week

NEW YORK -- Despite Thursday's proclamation from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman that the league intends to impose a lockout if a new deal cannot be reached by Sept. 15, both sides expressed optimism Friday that a work stoppage can be avoided.

"I think it's absolutely possible to get something done with no time missed," said Winnipeg Jets defenseman Ron Hainsey, who spoke on behalf of the NHL Players' Association after a fourth consecutive day of negotiations.

Although the league's statement Thursday left many fearing the possibility of another lengthy work stoppage, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly shared Hainsey's optimism Friday.

"Look, I always try to be optimistic about these things," Daly said. "I truly believe a deal can be done, but it will require a lot of work. We've got a lot of issues still open. We haven't even heard from (the union) on the economic issues and we have a month, so it will require hard work and commitment on both sides. But certainly the NHL is committed and we hope the players are committed as well."

Although the owners and players have forged common ground on smaller, secondary issues -- player safety and hockey-related items among them -- there is believed to be a significant gulf with respect to the economics of a new deal. Just how wide the gap remains will become more clear when the NHLPA submits a counterproposal Tuesday.

The NHL submitted its first proposal July 13, which contained player salary givebacks and a decrease and redefinition of hockey-related revenue and significant changes to the entry-level contract system. The union will make its first official response when talks reconvene in Toronto next week.

"I think it gives you a much better sense of how close or how far apart you might be," Daly said. "We've talked conceptually for a while now about our respective views of the world and the financial conditions of the league, and what we need to make this thing healthy. ... We'll see how far apart we are."

Friday's subcommittee meetings were limited to hockey issues, and not financial discussions, and covered items such as supplementary discipline, training camp, ice conditions and travel.

Hainsey, who attended Friday's talks with fellow player George Parros and other NHLPA staff members, said negotiations did not sour after Bettman's statement about the potential for a lockout.

The Players' Association was made aware of the league's intent Thursday during talks.

"We knew that was an option, a choice they were able to make," Hainsey said. "We're focused on getting to them our proposal Tuesday and getting them our view of how we see things going forward. That's what we're looking forward to."