NHL, union to meet Friday for 4th straight day

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NEW YORK (AP) - The best that can be said about the ongoing NHL labor negotiations is that they are still going, and will continue for at least a fourth straight day.

The league and the locked-out players’ association got back together Thursday and accomplished enough over five-plus hours to make plans to meet again Friday.

“I am not going to discuss the negotiations or the substance of what we’re talking about,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday on a wind-blown street corner. “I really don’t think that would be helpful to the process.

“We have work to do, and my hope is that we can achieve the goal of getting a long-term, fair agreement in place as quickly as possible so we can play hockey.”

Players' association executive director Donald Fehr didn’t rule out talks stretching into the weekend, too.

“All I can tell you is we have been meeting, and we will be meeting again (Friday),” he said. “I can’t say more than that. We haven’t talked about (the weekend), but if there is something to talk about then I expect we will be.”

The lockout reached its 54th day, and this week is considered critical for the season to be saved. The work stoppage is threatening to force the second cancellation of an NHL season in seven years.

Even if an agreement is reached soon, it isn’t clear if any of this season’s games that have been called off through Nov. 30 can be rescheduled. The NHL has already said a full 82-game season won’t be played.

“Every day that passes, I think, is critical for the game and for our fans,” Bettman said.

During a second consecutive day of marathon negotiations Wednesday, the players' association made an offer on revenue sharing, in which richer teams would help out poorer organizations, and another proposal regarding the “make-whole” provision that would guarantee full payment of all existing multiyear player contracts.

“There have been discussions over a wide range of topics,” Fehr said, while occupying the same location on the street that Bettman did. “We’re recessed for the night and we will be getting back together tomorrow. I am not going to comment in the substance of the discussions.”

Fehr also declined to say if he felt progress was made in the latest long round of discussions at a Manhattan law firm _ the location of the negotiations that had been kept secret until Thursday.

“I am not going to characterize it except to say, as I have before, that its always better when you’re meeting than when you’re not,” he said.

Thursday’s discussions marked the fourth time in six days that face-to-face negotiations have taken place after both sides rejected proposals Oct. 18. The lockout, which began Sept. 16 after the collective bargaining agreement expired, has forced the cancellation of 327 regular-season games, including the New Year’s Day Winter Classic in Michigan.

It was unclear if the NHL made counterproposals to offers it received from the union on Wednesday. The belief is that the players' association has agreed to a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues, but that even division wouldn’t kick in until the third year of the deal.

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