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By John Vogl

NEWS SPORTS REPORTER

As NHL labor talks are finally starting in earnest, play has halted for a key member of the Buffalo Sabres’ organization.

Cody Hodgson, who is scheduled to center one of the Sabres’ top two lines should the lockout end, has a broken bone in his right hand, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Rochester Americans coach Ron Rolston said Hodgson will be out a “couple weeks.”

Hodgson told the newspaper he received a two-handed slash from Adirondack Phantoms defenseman Brandon Manning on Oct. 27. Hodgson played with the injury Friday against Hamilton but skipped Saturday’s rematch and had a splint on his hand, according to the Democrat and Chronicle.

Though the NHL and NHL Players’ Association met Wednesday in New York for the second straight day and will meet again today, a new collective bargaining agreement likely isn’t imminent. With Hodgson’s injury, that’s good for the Sabres.

Buffalo was already thin at center, and it would be in big trouble without Hodgson if hockey had a quick startup. The only middle men on the Sabres’ roster would be Tyler Ennis, Matt Ellis and Cody McCormick. Wingers Ville Leino and Steve Ott could shift to center, and junior star Mikhail Grigorenko is eligible for a nine-game tryout.

Hodgson had started well in Rochester, recording nine assists and 10 points in his opening nine games. Rolston has moved left wing Luke Adam to center in Hodgson’s absence.

Meanwhile, in New York, the NHL and the players’ union again conducted lengthy and reportedly meaningful talks. The sides met in a secret location for nearly six hours after talking for seven Tuesday.

Neither side provided insights upon conclusion of the negotiations.

Revenue sharing among teams was reportedly a main topic of discussion. The union’s previous proposals have urged the NHL to boost cash flow from money-making teams to struggling organizations. Though the league’s most recent offer increased revenue sharing to $200 million annually, the total was still well short of the players’ goal.

According to the New York Post, the NHL has shown a willingness to back off its proposed five-year limit on contracts. The newspaper also reported the sides discussed amnesty buyouts. Following the 2004-05 lockout, teams were given six days to terminate and buy out player contracts.

The sides also reportedly discussed the NHL’s “make whole” concept, which would repay players’ salaries at a later date in the event they are trimmed in the early years of a new CBA. There has been disagreement over how the program would be funded.

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The Sabres have retired the numbers of six players. The four who are alive are joining to promote the team’s community work.

Gilbert Perreault, Rene Robert, Danny Gare and Pat LaFontaine are members of the new “Rafters Club,” the team has announced. The Sabres’ legends will work with the team’s alumni association and appear in public to draw attention to the community initiatives the group is involved with throughout the year.

“Our organization has always placed great emphasis on history and tradition,” Sabres President Ted Black said in a statement. “In bringing these players back to serve as our team ambassadors, we’re hoping to further strengthen our connection to the team’s past while also finding ways to better our community. These guys carry enormous significance in this city, and we know they’re going to do a lot of good.”

The first event for the Rafters Club will be the ninth annual Sabres Alumni Wine Festival on Wednesday in First Niagara Center. Proceeds from the event, which will run from 6 to 9:30 p.m., will benefit the Breast Cancer Prevention and Education Bus.

The other retired numbers were Richard Martin’s and Tim Horton’s.

email: jvogl@buffnews.com