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NHL Negotiators Talk, but That's All : Hockey: Little progress made in labor dispute, despite reports that sides have softened their stances.


The fate of the NHL season remained uncertain Thursday, after a meeting between representatives of the league and the players' association produced no indication that they had resolved their major differences.

Reports that they had moved closer to a deal that would result in the season starting Dec. 1 were contradicted by Bob Goodenow, the NHLPA's executive director.

"Unfortunately, no significant progress was made," he said after the seven-hour session in Buffalo, N.Y.

The negotiators agreed to speak by phone today and will discuss whether to convene this weekend or early next week. Goodenow was to brief players on the negotiations Thursday, before the start of a three-game charity exhibition tournament in Hamilton, Canada.

The talks, which appeared to reach a stalemate last week, took an optimistic turn Monday after sources among owners and players said meaningful compromises had been made. Players reportedly had agreed to accept an entry-level salary system and limited salary arbitration in exchange for more liberal free agency. Owners were said to be ready to drop their payroll levy proposal, which players had rejected as a salary restraint, and were prepared to restore most of the economic rollbacks they imposed Aug. 1.

However, roadblocks remain, including the players' demand to be paid in full this season, regardless of the number of games missed. Owners, whose revenue has been reduced by the cancellation of six home games each, are balking at that.

Sources said owners also don't consider the players' acceptance of an entry-level salary structure enough compensation for dropping the levy and will ask for other concessions. Owners also have not restored game rosters to 18 skaters and two goalies from 17 and two, a cut instituted during training camp.

As the lockout began its 42nd day, player agent Rich Winter announced plans to create a new league if the season is wiped out.

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