Ice Hockey - NHL-League appears upbeat as labor talks gain traction

Dec 5 (Reuters) - A small group of National Hockey League (NHL) owners and players appeared to be making some progress on Wednesday toward ending a costly lockout that threatens to wipe out a full season of play for the second time in seven years.

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Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was among 18 players who met with six NHL owners at a Manhattan hotel for a second consecutive day and it appeared some headway was being made with negotiations still underway.

"We are pleased with the process that is ongoing and out of respect for that process I don't have anything else to say and I'm not going to take any questions," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters.

The two sides met for eight hours on Tuesday and briefly on Wednesday morning with talks set to reconvene in the afternoon following a short break to accommodate a previously-scheduled NHL Board of Governors meeting.

Neither Bettman nor NHL Players' Association Executive Director Donald Fehr were involved in the owners-players meetings.

This week's discussions, aimed at ending a lockout that has already canceled about one-third of the 2012-13 NHL season, were the first between the two sides since U.S. federal mediators failed to kickstart talks last week.

The NHL and the union representing its players have been without a collective bargaining agreement since mid-September, resulting in the scrubbing of 422 regular season games and the All-Star Weekend in Columbus that was scheduled for January.

The lockout, which the NHL has said is costing it about $18-$20 million per day, is centered around a dispute over how to split the league's $3.3 billion revenue. It is the fourth work stoppage in 20 years for the NHL and the first since a lockout led to the cancellation of the 2004-05 season.

While both sides have agreed in principle to a 50-50 split of hockey related revenue, they remain at odds over how to reach the target.

Owners are demanding an immediate reduction from the 57 percent players received under the previous agreement, while the union would like to see the cuts brought in gradually.

The players and owners also have deep differences on several other key points, including contract restraints and free agency.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Larry Fine)

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