NEW YORK (AP) – Hoping to build off momentum from last week, the NHL and the players’ association will resume labor talks Wednesday and Thursday in Chicago, back in a smaller-group format and without their respective leaders.

The sides are returning to the table just five days after concluding four straight days of meetings that featured 22 hours of full negotiations between Thursday and Friday.

While NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and union executive director Bob Goodenow testified last week on Capitol Hill before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee pursuing legislation on drug testing in sports, smaller groups of negotiators got together for discussions on Tuesday and Wednesday in New York.

Most of the time was spent reviewing the finances of the 30 NHL teams, how each club reports its figures, and what qualifies as revenue – which has long been a source of contention.

Those talks led to full bargaining sessions with Bettman and Goodenow at the end of the week that spawned this next round of discussions that will take place without them.

“I expect that we will continue discussing financial and accounting issues, and perhaps additional topics,” NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly said Tuesday.

For the first time in the lockout that is into its ninth month, each side said that progress was made last week toward a collective bargaining agreement.

But both cautioned that they are not yet on the same page and lots of work still needs to be done if the NHL is going to resume play in the fall.

The sides will be getting together for the fourth straight week and plan to keep up that kind of schedule until a deal can be worked out.

NHL officials have repeatedly said this is a critical time to reach an agreement. The league wants to line up its sponsors and advertisers and settle its TV deals during the summer so play can begin on time in October.

By reaching an agreement now, teams also could begin selling season tickets after a full hockey year was lost to the lockout.

As has been the case since the dispute began, the league and the players’ association are trying to find common ground on the idea of a salary cap. The sides have agreed to have one, now it’s just a matter of agreeing on how it should work and what the cap should be for each team – on upper and lower limits.

Working off an April 4 concept offered by the players’ association, the league and union are trying to develop a system with an upper cap that could move each year depending on revenues.

AP-ES-05-24-05 1739EDT

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