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NHL talks make progress but new deal hopes still on thin ice

The National Hockey League (NHL) and union representing its locked-out players reached agreement on drug testing and player safety on Friday but did not address the core economic issues standing in the way of a new labor deal.

“We're taking baby steps right now.” Mathieu Schneider, a special assistant to the NHL Players Association's executive director, told reporters in New York.

“We are not really discussing anything that has to do with the core economics,” he said.

The NHL locked out its players on Sept. 16 when the previous labor deal expired with the two sides at odds over how to divide a US$3.3 billion revenue pie.

The lockout, which is the NHL's fourth work stoppage in 20 years, has already forced the league to cancel its entire preseason schedule.

Regular season play is scheduled to start Oct. 11 if a new collective bargaining agreement can be reached in time.

More meetings are planned for Saturday and Sunday.

“We like to say nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to, but we've certainly made some headway,” Schneider said. “A lot of it was done previous to this morning.”

One item discussed was increasing drug testing during the playoffs and offseason.

Schneider said neither the league nor the players believed the use of performance-enhancing drugs was a problem in the NHL.

But he added, “It's in the players' best interest as well as the sport to close off any possible time during the year where players could use.”

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