Meetings may be step toward end of NHL lockout

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The NHL and its Players' Association finally have an agreement.

Not on a labor deal to replace the one that expired Sept. 15, a day before commissioner Gary Bettman imposed the lockout that has led to the cancellation of 327 games.

No, the common ground they've found isn't nearly that dramatic, but it could turn out to be significant: The league and the union seem to agree that meetings which stretched into early Sunday morning just might represent progress toward resolving the dispute that threatens the 2012-13 season.

"We had a series of meetings over the course of the day and had a good, frank discussion on the most important issues separating us," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an email. "We plan to meet again early in the week."

Steve Fehr, the No. 2 man in the NHLPA, represented the union in the weekend talks and subsequently issued a statement that echoed Daly's assessment.

"I agree with what Bill said. Hopefully we can continue the dialogue, expand the group and make steady progress."

The time and location of that next session haven't been announced, although indications are that it will be tomorrow in New York. Precisely who will participate in it also remains to be seen.

Although neither side divulged precisely what was discussed over the weekend, the absence of vitriol in the public comments from both sides was striking because so many previous meetings had been followed by a hailstorm of accusations and hard feelings.

Of course, cordiality does not guarantee that the sides, which had not met face-to-face since Oct. 18, will be able to reach a settlement on the core financial issues in the lockout.

The division of what is known as "hockey-related revenue" is at the heart of the dispute. That totaled about $3.3 billion last season, when the players received a 57 percent share of it.

The league is looking to shrink that to 50 percent immediately and, while the NHLPA has agreed to an even split eventually, but wants to get down to it gradually.

Another major point of contention -- whether contracts signed under the previous CBA will be honored in full -- might have been addressed by the league last week, although the details of how that would be handled under the NHL's proposal are not known and conceivably might not be acceptable to the NHLPA.

In addition to issues that will determine how hundreds of millions of dollars are shared, there are many others that will have to be resolved before a settlement is reached.

Those deal with everything from a proposed limit on contract lengths to whether most players should be compelled to share hotel rooms on the road.

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Dave Molinari: or Twitter @MolinariPG.


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