Trevor Linden hopes he and Harley Hotchkiss can succeed where Bob Goodenow and Gary Bettman have failed.

Linden, president of the NHL Players' Association, and Hotchkiss, chairman of the league's board of governors, meet Wednesday in an attempt to kick-start negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement.

Through Tuesday, the NHL lockout has claimed 655 of this season's 1,230 regular-season games.

Explained Linden: "I've been in this game 16 years and I was around in 1992 (strike) and 1994 (lockout) and I recognized that taking this kind of step is not uncommon and felt like it was the right kind of thing to do, for Harley and I to sit down and talk face to face."

Wednesday's meeting, rumoured to be taking place in Chicago, will involve just six representatives – three on each side.

Joining Linden is NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin and outside counsel John McCambridge, while the NHL will be represented by Hotchkiss, vice president and chief legal officer Bill Daly and outside counsel Bob Batterman.

Noticeable by their exclusion are Goodenow, executive director of the union, and Bettman, the commissioner of the NHL and the man responsible for locking out the players on Sept. 16.

"The union has requested a smaller-group meeting at the suggestion of Trevor Linden," Daly stated. "We agreed to meet on that basis (and) we remain still hopeful that progress can be made toward a resolution."

"To change the dynamic of (the negotiating process) is not unusual," Linden claimed. "It's happened in Major League Baseball, it's happened in previous negotiations that we've had, so I felt like it was an opportunity to open up the dialogue.

"I really have no idea what's going to come out of it. But I felt it was an appropriate step to take.

"That's why I wanted to extend the invitation to Harley and Bill. If nothing else, there will be some face-to-face dialogue."

Wednesday's session marks the first labour talks of any kind since last Dec. 14, when league owners rejected a union proposal that included a 24 per cent salary rollback because it failed to guarantee so-called 'cost certainty.'

Later that same day, the players turned down a counter offer predicated on a salary cap, something they steadfastly refuse to accept.

Potentially at stake is the 2004-05 NHL season, not to mention the indignity of being the first of North America's four major professional sports to cancel an entire regular-season campaign because of a labour dispute.

The possibility also exists that the Stanley Cup may not be awarded for the first time since a Spanish flu wiped out the 1919 finals.

with files from CP Online