TORONTO (Reuters) - Negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement between the National Hockey League (NHL) and the union representing its players were called off for the day on Wednesday as the clock ticked towards a lockout.
Union head Donald Fehr cautioned reporters not to read too much into the canceled session, saying it was all part of the process and that both sides would resume negotiations Thursday at the NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) offices in Toronto.
"Sometimes you schedule things and they don't come off, sometimes you don't schedule things and you end up with much longer, more involved meetings. You change the format," Fehr told reporters. "This is an ordinary part of process. I wouldn't attribute any particular significance to it beyond that."
With the current labor agreement set to expire on September 15 players and owners are entering the critical stage of bargaining if they are to avoid another lockout like the one that wiped out the entire 2004-05 NHL season.
Fehr said top executives from the league and union held a separate meeting earlier on Wednesday where they spent most of the time discussing procedural issues before cancelling the larger afternoon session.
The two sides agreed to reconvene on Thursday when they will tackle some of the major trouble spots.
"We had the meeting this morning and talked about how we go forward and what we do next and the thought was made that we would be better off doing some other things this afternoon," said Fehr. "We spent some time talking about the core economic issues but that is all I want to say about it."
The pace of negotiations is set to pick up with both sides agreeing to meet all next week at NHL offices in New York.
Talks on Wednesday were the first in a week and came with both sides having indicated there is a significant gap between them with regard to the economics of a new deal.
The NHL wants to reduce the players' share of hockey-related revenues to 46 percent from 57 percent despite enjoying record-breaking revenue of $3.3. billion last season along with an increase in television ratings.
The 82-game regular season is scheduled to open on October 11.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)