- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- For the second straight day, the NHL and NHLPA met late into the night Wednesday while trying to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement.
It remains unclear exactly how much common ground was forged, although the NHLPA appears to be growing increasingly wary of the current players/owners-only meetings.
Multiple sources told ESPNNewYork.com that there is some concern among the union's membership that the format may be an attempt to divide the players and isolate the constituency from its leadership.
Additionally, one source informed ESPNNewYork.com the union notified the league that, going forward, it will not adhere to any restrictions about who is allowed in the room and believes each side should bring back whomever it wants.
At NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's suggestion last week, both he and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr have remained on the periphery of discussions, while several players (17 to 19 over the last two days ) and six owners have driven negotiations. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr, however, were allowed to participate for each side.
The suggestion has brought forth two consecutive days of exhaustive discussions, although how much progress it has yielded remains unclear.
After Tuesday's lengthy session -- one that lasted almost 10 hours and seemed to spark hope in brokering a deal -- the two sides met for even longer on Wednesday. The meeting lasted until just before 1 a.m. ET Thursday.
In a brief statement, Daly said the league is awaiting a response from the NHLPA on Thursday.
"(We) had good, candid dialogue on a lot of issues. There continues to be some critical open issues between the two parties," Daly said. "And, we understand the union should be getting back to us on those issues."
The NHLPA plans to meet internally Thursday morning, with both sides slated to resume talks at some point afterward.
The union has asked the NHL to bring mediators back into the negotiations and is still waiting for the league's response to the request, sources told ESPN.
The possibility of bringing in a mediator originally was breached Tuesday during discussions -- both sides were amenable to the idea -- although there was an availability issue on the end of the FMCS, a source confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com.
Earlier Wednesday, the sides exchanged "proposals," multiple sources confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com.
Although it is not believed the proposals resembled the formal, all-encompassing offers that have been traded -- and subsequently rejected -- in recent months, the NHL and the NHLPA exchanged ideas on key issues in multiple brief sessions.
A source told ESPN.com that the NHL offered to raise the amount of the "Make Whole" provision, one of the key bargaining points in negotiations, to $300 million in total, up from $211 million in its last offer.
Other details of the league's offer, as confirmed to ESPN.com:
• The league is backing off contracting rights demands on unrestricted free-agency age (27) and salary arbitration, offering to keep both the same.
• However, the league is staying firm on asking for five-year term limits for contracts and a 5 percent salary variance; the only exception is a team signing its own free agent, in which case a contract could go to seven years in term.
• The league wants a 10-year term on the new CBA; a source told ESPNNewYork.com that the idea behind the 10-year deal is to ease the initial burden for clubs on transition payments.
The source described Wednesday's negotiating sessions as "bizarre" and said that while the two sides are closer in some ways, in others they are further apart.
The evening session was described as "very delicate," a source inside the room told ESPN.com.
Winnipeg's Ron Hainsey remained tight-lipped on what transpired throughout the day and declined to answer questions after offering the following statement: "We had a series of meetings today, very candid discussions and we plan on meeting again tomorrow."
Earlier Wednesday, Bettman said he was "pleased with the process" -- even though he was left outside the latest rounds of discussions.
Still stuck on the perimeter with Donald Fehr, Bettman made a brief statement Wednesday on the state of the ongoing lockout but declined to take any questions.
"We are pleased with the process that is ongoing, and out of respect for that process. I don't have anything else to say," Bettman said.
Larry Tanenbaum of the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of the six owners participating in these negotiations, also painted an optimistic picture as he walked the few blocks back to the hotel hosting the meetings.
"We're going to continue to talk up until we get a deal," said Tanenbaum, who added there is more clarity on both sides where each group stands. "All I can say is as long as we're talking, we're hopeful."
If a breakthrough can be made soon, the delayed and shortened hockey season could get going quickly.
"I've always been hopeful there would be a season," said Lou Lamoriello, the New Jersey Devils' president and general manager. "Right now, we just have to leave it in the hands of the people that are talking."
Meanwhile, the Quebec Labour Relations Board granted a joint request from the NHL and NHLPA to postpone the hearing that was slated to take place Thursday and Friday, a source confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com. The hearing has been adjourned while the two sides focus on continued bargaining.
Bargaining stretched on Tuesday night until about midnight, and it was clear that progress was made when Daly stood side by side with Steve Fehr and issued a rare joint status report. Negotiations took place in a pair of sessions that included various-sized groups.
The sides are trying to avoid another lost season. The NHL became the first North American professional sports league to cancel a full year because of a labor dispute in 2005. The deal reached then was in place until this September, and the lockout took effect on Sept. 16 after that agreement expired.
Information from ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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