NHL lockout: Union, league negotiators meet with 2 mediators for first time

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The NHL and the NHL Players' Association entered into a new phase of negotiations toward a new collective bargaining agreement and possible end to the ongoing lockout.

Scot Beckenbaugh and John Sweeney of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service stepped in as liaisons and, if all goes well, deal facilitators when the two sides met Wednesday for the first time in eight days.

The only update, which did not include details, came from the union, which said in a statement that "a small group of NHLPA staff and players met with two experienced FMCS mediators. We expect that these discussions will resume on Thursday."

The lockout, which dates to mid-September, stems from differences on some key issues -- how the owners and players will split league revenue, along with several player contractual rights. There is a long list of lesser issues to be resolved as well.

If the sides can reach a deal or get close in the next several days, the league's board of governors meeting Wednesday in New York could become a key event.

The NHLPA had been interested in bringing in a mediator for some time, and the league agreed to that this week.

The first day of mediation coincided with Forbes' publication of its annual NHL financial estimates, and its findings could help underscore why the NHLPA has pushed for increased revenue sharing in the next CBA.

At the top of the team valuations is Toronto at $1 billion, the first NHL franchise to reach that mark.

The publication noted that, despite good growth over the past seven years under the previous CBA -- revenues reached more than $3 billion and arenas were at 95.6 percent capacity last season, the gap between the upper- and lower-echelon teams has grown. It said 13 teams lost money in 2011-12, and the top three money-makers accounted for 83 percent of the league's income. Those three are the Maple Leafs, New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens.

Forbes valued the Penguins at $288 million, which ranked ninth in the NHL, just behind the Philadelphia Flyers and just ahead of the Los Angeles Kings. The Penguins are $6 million over the average team value.

The report said the Penguins had operating revenue (pre-tax) last season of $9.1 million and noted that, "The Penguins have proven that it is possible for a small-market NHL franchise to consistently be a playoff team and make money given the right arena deal and smart management."

In terms of players, Forbes listed Penguins center Sidney Crosby as having the highest combined income when factoring in what it said is $4 million a year in endorsements. If Crosby were being paid this season rather than locked out, he would be in the final year of a contract that averages $8.7 million per season. He signed a 13-year deal set to kick in next summer with the same average salary.

NOTES -- Crosby, who practiced at Southpointe Monday and Tuesday, made a last-minute decision to join several other locked-out NHL players at a player-organized training camp in Scottsdale, Ariz. He skated there Wednesday. ... Penguins center Evgeni Malkin had no points, but was hit in overtime with a kneeing minor penalty plus 10 minutes for abuse of officials and unsportsmanlike conduct in a 4-3 loss against Vityaz in the Kontinental Hockey League. ... The Western Hockey League hit the Portland junior team and coach/general manager Mike Johnston with heavy sanctions for improper player benefits -- essentially recruiting violations. There was no immediate indication whether defenseman Derrick Pouliot, a first-round pick by the Penguins in June, was involved.

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