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NHL labor negotiations to resume with mediators

Secret talks set for Wednesday

TORONTO — NHL labor negotiations will resume Wednesday, with mediators rejoining the talks at an undisclosed location in an effort to save the hockey season.

The Canadian Press on Tuesday reported the restart of bargaining between the league and union, citing unidentified people on both sides of the lockout.

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US federal mediators Scot Beckenbaugh and John Sweeney are to return to the process. They took part in sessions Nov. 27 and 28 before deciding they couldn’t help.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, based in Washington, also was involved during the lockout that canceled the 2004-05 NHL season, with Beckenbaugh attending sessions.

As recently as last week, commissioner Gary Bettman indicated he didn’t think mediators would be able to help bridge the gap.

‘‘We’re not interested in mediation,’’ he said Thursday. ‘‘We went through it a week and a half ago. It was of no value because of the position of the parties.’’

Tuesday marked the 87th day of the lockout. Wednesday’s session will be the first meeting since the sides blamed each other after talks broke off last week.

Until then, they appeared to be making progress during three days in New York in which they exchanged proposals. Union executive director Donald Fehr maintains there are agreements on almost all the important issues.

In the league’s view, three main issues remain: the length of the collective bargaining agreement, rules governing term limits on contracts, and the transition rules to help teams get under the salary cap.

There are also secondary issues yet to be agreed on, including the continued participation of NHL players in the Olympics, the international calendar, and drug-testing rules.

In all, more than 40 percent of the regular season that was scheduled to begin Oct. 11 has been scratched.

The NHL eliminated 16 more days from the regular-season schedule Monday, canceling games through Dec. 30 in addition to the New Year’s Day Winter Classic and the All-Star Game, which were already wiped out.

The latest cancellations generally were regarded as both bad news and good news.

While losing another two weeks hurts the league and the players, the fact that the NHL did not take more games off the schedule sparked speculation owners are holding out hope of making a deal that could start the season in early January.

Bettman has said the league would not want to play anything less than a 48-game season, which is what it had after the 1994-95 lockout ended.

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