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NHL labor talks now on thin ice

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Cheers and Jeers,Sports,NHL,Brian McNally

Hockey fans across North America have to feel sick at this point. Optimism surged when the owners and the NHL Players' Association met four days in a row and two other times had informal meetings to set the stage for talks to end the ongoing lockout. After weeks without any face-to-face negotiations, that was a sign the two sides were finally getting serious.

Unfortunately, Sunday brought another grim reality: Just because the two sides are talking doesn't necessarily mean their issues are being resolved. The players still want to ensure that their current contracts -- some signed just days before the lockout began Sept. 15 and some monster deals signed over the summer -- are honored in full. The owners, meanwhile, want a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue as soon as possible. Players right now earn 57 percent of that money after the last CBA negotiations, which ended only after an entire season had been canceled.

And so after just over an hour of talks Sunday, the owners and players broke off a meeting early and began talking in public again -- something that hadn't happened during the week and is always a bad sign. No further meetings were scheduled as of Sunday evening.

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said he was told by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman that "we're past the point of give-and-take," according to ESPN. For his part, Fehr told reporters that he "doesn't see a path to an agreement."

This all still feels like posturing. But Bettman and Fehr were headed to Toronto for the Hockey Hall of Fame ceremonies on Monday, and even if the two sides agree to meet again soon, another chunk of the season has slipped away. It's difficult to see what revenue, exactly, they are going to be left arguing over if this continues much longer.

But if anything, the NHLPA may have shown exactly how badly a segment of owners wants this lockout to end, too. The anonymous personal attacks on Fehr in response to a leaked memo he sent to players Thursday night demonstrate a high level of frustration that the owners haven't convinced the NHLPA to crack yet.

- Brian McNally

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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