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All quiet on labour front as league's deadline to save full NHL season arrives

NEW YORK, N.Y. - The NHL's deadline for playing a full, 82-game season arrived Thursday with no new discussions between the league and its locked-out players.

Without a new collective bargaining agreement that would end the league's lockout of players on its 40th day, the NHL vowed to cut the season short. An announcement officially taking a full schedule out of play wasn't immediately planned.

Major money-making events such as the upcoming outdoor Winter Classic and the All-Star game could soon be in peril, too.

"No contact, and I don't anticipate any announcements today," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press in an email Thursday.

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

The league has already cancelled 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.

In making its most recent offer to the players, the NHL presented a proposal that included a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues. But that 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 three counterproposals, all of which would get the sides to a 50-50 deal, but the league rejected them quickly because they didn't work off the NHL's offer. 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.

The league's position is if the players' association isn't willing to negotiate off the NHL's offer—which Bettman has called the league's best—or make a counteroffer using that proposal as a framework, then there is no sense in meeting just to meet.

"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.

"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 lost in the last work stoppage.

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