Day 1 of the second round of mediation accomplished little as the NHL lockout stretches to the end of its third month.
The league and NHL Players' Association met in separate groups with mediators at the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service's sub-regional office in Iselin, N.J., on Wednesday.
But the only news to come out of the sessions was: a) the league's offer from last week is, at least for now, off the table; and b) they could be meeting again this week, as the mediation process continues.
Unlike last week's talks, which pushed negotiations forward until they hit another stalemate late in the proceedings, no franchise owners were in attendance Wednesday.
The NHL, however, told players through the mediators it was willing only to go as far as offering what had already been discussed.
"Basically, they left it up to us to decide whether to accept their last proposal," Brendan Morrison, a free agent who most-recently played for the Chiacago Blackhawks, told reporters in attendance at what was supposed to be a secret location.
"It wasn't much of a decision."
"Really, there's nothing new to report," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.
The main sticking points between the two sides remain the same: The league wants a long-term collective agreement (eight to 10 years), limitations on long-term deals (five years for free agents, seven for players under contract), and no "transition mechanisms," such as compliance buyouts that wouldn't count against the cap.
The players have countered with a six-to-eight-year collective agreement and eight-year contract limits. The discussion of transitioning from a $70-million (U.S.) salary cap down to the $60-million range, which would come due to the players' share of revenues shrinking to 50 per cent, hasn't progressed further than the NHL insisting it doesn't want any money spent outside of the cap.
While there was no progress made in talks, some small further details emerged about what was proposed last week on some of the other outstanding issues.
The NHLPA, for example, agreed to a formula that would potentially punish teams with players on existing contracts with seven or more years remaining. The proposal would mean if players on those long-term deals retired early, their teams would be faced with a "cap-benefit recapture" that would put a penalty on their cap equal to the savings they received over the life of the deal.
That stands as just one example of the incremental gains made between the two sides last week, something that prompted widespread optimism in the hockey world that there will still be an abbreviated 48-game season, beginning in early January.
Players in attendance at Wednesday's mediation sessions, however, pointed out they were surprised the standoff had lasted as long as it has.
"I never thought the issues were as big as they were back in '04-05," Morrison said, comparing this lockout to the one that cancelled a full season eight years ago. "Apparently, I was wrong."
"To think that we're that close but so far away is extremely frustrating," Blackhawks forward Jamal Mayers added.
The 13 players in attendance at Wednesday's meetings were: Craig Adams, Adrian Aucoin, Brad Boyes, Chris Campoli, Mathieu Darche, Shane Doan, Ron Hainsey, Andy McDonald, Steve Montador, Douglas Murray, Daniel Winnik, Morrison and Mayers.
Commissioner Gary Bettman, Daly and the league's legal team were on hand for the NHL.