NEW YORK -- No progress doesn't mean no hockey -- at least not yet.
NHL labor talks ended yesterday after a four-hour meeting, without a resolution or a historic announcement that the season has been lost.
"We met the last couple of days, tried to cover some issues and maybe a few new issues to see if there was a possibility of some common ground and some traction, but that isn't the case," NHL Players Association executive director Bob Goodenow said before returning to Toronto. "The parties agreed to stay in touch, but there's really no progress to report of any type. That's the reality."
Representatives met for the third straight day, but weren't able to get over the major stumbling block: a salary cap. The NHL has insisted on a link between league revenues and player costs, and the union has steadfastly refused that as a solution to end the season-long lockout.
Goodenow and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman rejoined the discussions Thursday, and were at the table for yesterday's session.
The NHL had indicated that progress was essential at these talks if there was to be hockey this season.
"We had extensive and constructive talks over the past two days," NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly said in a statement. "While there are no future meetings scheduled, we have agreed to keep the lines of communication open."
The 4 1/2-month lockout reached its 142d day yesterday and has wiped out 775 regular-season games and the All-Star game. The remainder of the 1,230-game schedule could be called off within days.
"Despite several media reports to the contrary, we have no intention of making any further announcement relating to collective bargaining or the status of the season at this time," Daly said.
On Wednesday, the union quickly rejected the league's proposal because it included a salary cap. That session was the fifth in a two-week span that Bettman and Goodenow didn't attend. But right after that meeting, the union invited the league back to the table and wanted the leaders there.
"I think we have to rely on the two people that are in the room with the others," said New Jersey Devils president Lou Lamoriello, who took part in earlier negotiations. "You can't go any higher than Bob Goodenow and commissioner Gary Bettman. It's in their hands and we have to respect that, and I believe that's where it should be.
"We have to have some patience."
Bettman and Goodenow were needed in the room before any deal could be reached. No major league in North America has lost an entire season to a labor dispute.
"They're trying to do everything humanly possible to try to get the game back on the ice," Lamoriello said. "If there is reason to believe that there is hope and a chance, then I think you use that time."
NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin and outside counsel John McCambridge also took part in the negotiations on the union side, while Daly and attorney Bob Batterman represented the league. Those four were the only participants in Wednesday's session.
The NHL proposed a six-year deal Wednesday that contained a cap that would force teams to spend at least $32 million on player costs, but no more than $42 million, including benefits. The union needed only a few hours to turn it down.
There were other components to the offer, such as a profit-sharing plan, reduced age for unrestricted free agency, a raise of the minimum salary, and the phasing out of guaranteed contracts, but the issue has always been about a salary cap.
"I never want to get discouraged or have any type of that attitude," Lamoriello said. "I think that we have to respect the people that are in that room, allow them to do what they're doing, and just support the results that come out."
Bettman has said that teams lost a total of more than $1.8 billion over 10 years, and management will not agree to a deal without a defined relationship between revenue and salaries.
Last season's average salary was $1.8 million, and the NHL wants to push that back with a salary cap. The latest offer would give players between 53 percent and 55 percent of league revenues.
An economic study commissioned by the NHL found that players got 75 percent of revenues, but the union has challenged many of the league's findings.
The NHL has been operating under the same collective bargaining agreement since 1995, when the last lockout went 103 days before a 48-game season was played.
The Stanley Cup has been awarded every year since 1919, when a flu epidemic wiped out the final series between Montreal and Seattle.