NHL, union wrap up marathon session

The two sides will meet again on Thursday in Toronto.

The NHL and Players' Association went back to the negotiating table on Wednesday, gathering in small groups and discussing league and team revenues during a 10 ½-hour meeting in Toronto.

Both sides will resume labour talks on Thursday in a larger group discussion when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow are expected to be in attendance.

According to the Canadian Press, the league and union have agreed that a new collective bargaining agreement will feature some sort of salary-cap system with an upper and lower limit. Both parties, however, have struggled to set those limits, as they have arduously poured through financial reports in order to tie revenues to the floating cap.

Representing the NHLPA on Wednesday were senior director Ted Saskin, outside counsel John McCambridge, associate counsel Ian Pulver, players' executive committee president Trevor Linden and vice-president Vincent Damphousse as well as two union financial people.

The league was represented by chief legal officer Bill Daly, Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, outside counsel Bob Batterman, NHL general counsel David Zimmerman, lawyer Shep Goldfein and other financial figures.

Wednesday's meeting came after the two sides engaged in two days of negotiations last week, with the union tempering any optimism fans may have about an imminent conclusion to the nine-month lockout.

Both sides have said they plan to meet every week until a new collective bargaining agreement is agreed upon. They have met 17 times since February.

The NHL and union have failed to negotiate a new CBA since Bettman locked out the players last Sept. 15 and cancelled the 2004-05 season on Feb. 16.

The meetings in Toronto come on the heels of the American sports cable network ESPN revealing this week that it has ended its negotiations with the league for television rights for next season.

The decision means the NHL will have no major source of exposure in the lucrative American market. It's a massive blow for a league which has already lost a full season because of a labour dispute with the players' union.

The NHL's 30 clubs will lose $2-million in rights fees because of ESPN's departure.

Over the weekend, ESPN announced it would not exercise its option on the NHL's broadcasting rights, which were worth $60 million US.

The NHL's five-year, $600-million deal with ABC/ESPN expired at the end of the 2004 playoffs. The league then re-negotiated a one-year contract with ESPN, with options to extend the deal for the 2005-06 and the 2006-07 seasons.

Many industry observers believed ESPN's decision to pass on its option didn't necessarily mean hockey wouldn't be aired on the network. Instead, many in the media saw it as a ploy by the network to negotiate more favourable terms with the league.

But, according to the New York Times, Bettman refused to lower the broadcasting fees below $60 million.

"When the now-expired contract was negotiated, the $60 million option price tag took a work stoppage – potentially a long-term work stoppage – into consideration," NHL spokesperson Frank Brown told the Times.

"We have no interest in further devaluing the product."

with files from Canadian Press