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NHL, players' union to talk for first time since May

NEW YORK -- Hoping to stave off the second lockout in 11
seasons, the NHL and the players' association will meet Wednesday
to resume negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement.

The current deal, extended twice since it was hammered out in
1995, expires Sept. 15. If a new agreement isn't reached by then, a
lockout that could threaten the entire season is expected to be
imposed.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has vowed on behalf of the owners
to work out a deal with the union that will radically change the
financial landscape of the league. He is determined to make sure
the percentage of revenues paid out in player salaries is sliced,
and to establish "cost certainty" for clubs.

An economic study commissioned by the NHL found that players get
76 percent of all league revenues -- far more than the percentage
for the other major team sport.

According to the NHL, league revenues have increased 163 percent
while player salaries have jumped 252 percent under the current
agreement. The league also contends total losses amounted to nearly
$300 million during the 2002-03 season.

The players' association has challenged many of the league's
financial findings.

The union has said Bettman's vision of cost certainty amounts to
a hard salary cap it refuses to accept. The players' association
said it has countered with an offer of a luxury tax, a 5-percent
rollback in player salaries and changes in entry-level salaries.

Bettman has said owners will wait as long as necessary to
achieve their goals.

If so, the next lockout could be worse than the one that lasted
103 days and cut the 1994-95 season in half. Owners have been
preparing for that possibility for the last several years, and have
built up a $300 million war chest.

The sides have not met since May when they got together in
Tampa, Fla., during the Stanley Cup finals. Labor talks began last
October, but there have only been two brief negotiating sessions
since -- totaling about six hours.

Bettman and union head Bob Goodenow are expected attend
negotiations at the NHL office in New York.