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Published: Friday, 10/26/2012

Hope for full NHL season lost as deadline for new labor agreement comes and goes

ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK — Now that the opportunity to play a full hockey season has come and gone, the remaining question is can any of it be saved?

Seven years ago that was a resounding 'no' when a lockout forced the cancellation of the entire NHL season as owners held out for a salary cap. This time around, the fight between the league and the players centers on how much of the revenue pie each side should get.

They failed to reach a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement by the Thursday deadline set by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, therefore ensuring that the league won't be able to fit in a full season of games.

Again, owners and players stayed away from the bargaining table on Thursday — taking away any possible drama of a last-minute deal to preserve a whole season. The NHL didn't make any formal announcement on the 40th day of the lockout.

The deadline passed, but the league didn't declare another round of game cancellations. That is expected soon, perhaps as early as Friday.

"No contact," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press in an email Thursday.

If Bettman sticks to his contention that the league's most recent offer is the best it can make, then this lockout could go on for quite some time. Suddenly, the New Year's Day outdoor Winter Classic and the annual All-Star game could also be wiped from the slate.

The NHL's most recent offer included a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues that exceeded $3 billion last season, but that proposal was rejected by the union. The players responded with three counteroffers that were dismissed within minutes by the league.

Efforts by the players' association to resume negotiations this week were also rebuffed by the NHL because the union declined to agree to start bargaining off the framework of the league's offer or issue another proposal using the league's proposal as a starting point.

Bettman had already painted a pessimistic picture on Wednesday, saying at a news conference for the New York Islanders' move to Brooklyn that, "Unfortunately, it looks like an 82-game season is not going to be a reality."

The league has already canceled all 135 scheduled games through Nov. 1, but the thought was those could be rescheduled if a deal was reached by the end of Thursday and play started Nov. 2.

The NHL's offer of an even split of hockey-related revenues was contingent on the sides making the Thursday deadline and getting the season under way following a week of training camp.

The union responded with multiple offers, all of which would get the sides to a 50-50 deal, but the league rejected them. Talks then broke down, and the NHL turned down the union's offer to return to the table this week with no preconditions. The union wants anything and everything open to discussion.

Anything the NHL will offer going forward will likely be less enticing for the union because of lost revenue based on a shortened season.

"The fact of the matter is there are just sometimes that you need to take time off because it's clear that you can't do anything to move the process forward," Bettman said. "We're at one of those points right now because we gave our very best offer. That offer, for better or for worse, was contingent on playing an 82-game season. So I think things actually in some respects may get more difficult."

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said Wednesday night that the league's deadline was bogus.

"We are and continue to be ready to meet to discuss how to resolve our remaining differences, with no preconditions. For whatever reason, the owners are not," he said. "At the same time they are refusing to meet, they are winding the clock down to yet another artificial deadline they created."

There is a major divide between the sides over how to deal with existing player contracts. The union wants to ensure that those are all paid in full without affecting future player contracts. Bettman expressed a willingness to discuss the "make whole" provisions on existing contracts, but only if the economic portions of the league's offer are accepted first by the union.

Bettman refused to say whether the 50-50 split in the proposal would come off the table if a full season isn't played, but that is expected.

"I'm not going to negotiate publicly," he said.

This lockout, the third of Bettman's tenure as commissioner, began Sept. 16. The 2004-05 season was the first in North American professional sports to be fully lost because of a labor dispute.



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