NEW YORK - Two days of marathon labor talks later, NHL owners and players were still working to reach a deal yesterday.

The mood had turned, however. Gone was some of the lightheartedness and rare optimism expressed earlier in the week, and there were no joint statements.

Representatives of the league and the players each said Wednesday's long talks were "candid" and offered a sense of hope by announcing that negotiations would resume later yesterday.

"We had good, candid dialogue," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said early yesterday after nearly nine hours of talks at a Manhattan hotel. "There continue to be some critical open issues between the two parties, and we understand the union should be getting back to us ... on some of those issues."

Citing unidentified sources, The Canadian Press reported that the league - which wants a more even split of annual revenue with players - had increased its offer of a "make whole" payment to the players from $211 million to $300 million. The union had asked for $393 million. The catch, CP reported, is that the offer was tied to deals on other issues such as player contracting rights.

The sides are trying to avoid another lost season. The NHL became the first North American professional sports league to cancel a full year because of a labor dispute back in 2005.

All games through December 14, along with the New Year's Day Winter Classic and the All-Star Game, have been wiped off the schedule so far.