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Talks on new NHL collective bargaining agreement to begin Friday in New York

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, of Russia, warms up before Game 4 of a first-round NHL Stanley Cup playoff hockey series against the Boston Bruins on Thursday, April 19, 2012, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

CHICAGO - Let the games begin.

The NHL and NHL Players' Association are scheduled to kick off formal talks on a new collective bargaining agreement in New York on Friday, according to multiple sources.

Anxious fans have been waiting months for the sides to open negotiations on a deal that is set to expire Sept. 15. Despite the fact a season was lost the last time they went to the bargaining table, there has been a slight hint of optimism in the air at the NHLPA's executive board meetings this week.

"We have a few months ahead here to reach a deal and that's our goal," New York Islanders star John Tavares said Tuesday.

In all, the union has gathered 53 players together for three days of comprehensive meetings before talks open. They were split into three breakout groups on Tuesday afternoon and combed over a number of topics expected to be raised during CBA discussions — everything from desired changes to the current system to player safety and on-ice issues.

More than half of the players who travelled to Chicago lived through the 2004-05 lockout and they've gone out of their way to talk about the experience with younger union members.

However, the overwhelming majority seem to believe there is a fair deal to be made, especially since the industry has grown from US$2.1 billion to $3.3 billion over the course of this agreement.

"The league's doing really well," said St. Louis Blues forward David Backes. "There's been increased revenues — record revenues — every year. It's on a track that seems like almost exponential growth, to halt that would be a shame on both sides.

"We're looking for something that's fair, we're not looking to clean house."

At this point, it's still a little unclear where the major battle lines will be drawn. The NHL is expected to try and lower the players' take of overall league revenue from its current position of 57 per cent while the union will attempt to redesign the revenue-sharing system so that the wealthy teams are required to do a better job of supporting those that are struggling.

Undoubtedly, a number of other issues will arise as well.

The sides appear to be entering talks with the hope of keeping them as quiet as possible. In fact, neither would even confirm publicly that they're set to sit down together on Friday.

When they do, neither will have forgotten what happened the last time around.

"Looking back on it we made a lot of huge concessions — losing a season not to mention (the deal itself)," said veteran Chicago Blackhawks forward Jamal Mayers. "The fact is the league's seen seven years of revenue growth. At the end of the day, we're going to have to come to an agreement."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2012
The Canadian Press

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