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No avoiding NHL lockout

There will be no last-ditch attempt to avoid another NHL lockout.

With hours remaining on the collective bargaining agreement, deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Canadian Press that he didn't expect any formal negotiations to take place before it expired at midnight on Saturday.

"We spoke again today, and in light of the fact that neither party has indicated an intention to move off of its last proposal, we have decided that there is no point in convening a formal bargaining session," he wrote in an email.

"We will keep in close contact in the coming days and if anything changes, I am sure we will be in touch."

The NHL and NHL Players' Association let the final three days of the CBA pass without returning to the bargaining table. Steve Fehr, the NHLPA's special counsel, indicated the union requested a formal meeting with the league in New York before the "owners' self-imposed deadline" but was rebuffed.

"(Executive director) Don Fehr, myself and several players on the negotiating committee were in the city and prepared to meet," Steve Fehr said in a statement. "The NHL said that it saw no purpose in having a formal meeting. There have been and continue to be private, informal discussions between representatives of both sides."

The lockout has been a long time coming. The league says it informed the NHLPA in November that it was unwilling to play past the expiration of the current CBA and it never changed that stance.

The sides last sat down together on Wednesday, with each tabling a proposal, and commissioner Gary Bettman indicated he expects the next move to come from the union.

"We made the last offer and we haven't gotten a formal response to our proposal," Bettman said Thursday. "I hope we get one and one that recognizes that we made yet another meaningful move and we're trying to engage in a negotiation."

The impact of the lockout will be felt immediately. The first pre-season games are expected to be cancelled next week and the possibility of having the regular season start as scheduled on Oct. 11 will become less and less likely with each passing day.

During the lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season, both the league and individual teams decided to lay off employees. On Saturday, Daly said the NHL has no plans to cut staff "at this point in time."

A number of players are expected to seek alternative opportunities in Europe, with the Russian-based KHL offering the most financial appeal. Switzerland, Sweden and Finland will also likely be popular destinations.

Players aren't scheduled to receive the first of 13 NHL paycheques this season until Oct. 15, something they'll miss if the lockout extends past that date. There are no immediate plans for them to receive a stipend from the union.

Even the main negotiators will stop being paid. Bettman and Daly both committed to giving up their salary during the lockout while Donald Fehr stopped collecting a paycheque at the start of July as a sign of solidarity with his membership.

With the sides struggling to agree on how to divide up US$3.28 billion in annual revenues, both lamented the damage that is bound to be inflicted by engaging in another work stoppage.

"Hockey is poised, I think, to really move over the next three or four years to a fundamentally different place than it's been before," said Fehr. "The question is whether the dispute we're currently having is going to screw that up. If so, that's bad and that's unfortunate, we ought to be doing what we can to avoid it."

Added Bettman: "Even a brief lockout will cost more in lost revenue and wages than making a deal we think we need to make."

For the last several weeks, all of the secondary issues have been pushed aside so that talks could focus solely on the league's core economic system.

The NHL believes too much money is being paid out in salaries and has proposed a system to address it.

They're calling for the players' share in revenue to be set at 49 per cent next season, down from 57 per cent in the expiring deal, and proposed that it drops to 47 per cent by the end of the six-year deal.

The union tabled an offer where the salary cap would be set to fixed increases of two per cent, four per cent and six per cent over the next three years. The system would then revert to a percentage-based system for the final two years.

And so the NHL heads into its fourth work stoppage in two decades.

An 11-day strike in April 1992 caused 30 games to be postponed, while a 103-day lockout in 1994-95 forced the cancellation of 468 games and delayed the season's start until Jan. 20.

The 2004 lockout began Sept. 16 and wasn't settled until July 13, making the NHL the first North American sports league to ever cancel an entire season over a labour dispute.

The Canadian Press
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