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Talks sour as league, union meet for fourth day

(Reuters) - Negotiations appeared to have soured on Friday as National Hockey League (NHL) owners and locked out players completed a fourth consecutive day of talks to resolve their bitter labor dispute.

"We thought we were much closer together on a structure of a deal than suggestions were," NHL Players Association (NHLPA) executive director Donald Fehr told reporters in New York. "They (the NHL) came back to us and said, 'No, we're very, very far apart on a structure of the deal'."

Minnesota Star-Tribune, citing sources, said the NHL believed the league had given the players almost all they had asked for, but Fehr was not passing on that information based on a memo sent to players in which the executive director said there was a "considerable gap" in the positions of the two sides.

Fehr disputed both points.

"If you write a memo, and it's a quick one, you necessarily have to summarize," he said, adding "that doesn't have anything to do with all the calls that are made by the player reps."

The two sides are trying to work out how to split $3.3 billion in annual revenue.

The owners want to reduce the players' share from the current 57 percent to 50 percent.

A major stumbling block appears to be a "make whole" concept to honor existing player contracts.

"We are still being told that more salaries must be conceded, and that very valuable player contracting rights must be surrendered," Fehr said in the memo which was written on Thursday.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman declined to characterize the talks, which are aimed at reaching a new collective bargaining agreement and salvaging some of the season.

"I'm not getting into the specifics," Bettman said.

Both sides have agreed to meet again on Saturday, the New York Times reported.

Already more than 300 games and the league's showcase event, the New Year's Day Winter Classic, have been canceled since owners locked out the players on September 15. All league games until November 30 have been called off in a season that originally was scheduled to start on October 11, leaving sponsors and broadcast partners unhappy.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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