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NHL's 'Cliff'

The NHL's collective bargaining talks appear to be heading towards the brink.

With the process still in mediation and the sides spending another day apart, negotiations slowed to a crawl just one week from a season saving deadline that is suddenly coming in to full view.

There had been some hope a deal could be reached in time to open training camps this weekend and start a 52-game schedule the following Saturday. Now the best-case scenario appears to be 48 games, with commissioner Gary Bettman making it clear an agreement must be reached by Jan. 11 for that to happen.

The extra lost week of a shortened season and another 60 missed games across the league come at an estimated cost of roughly US$130 million in hockey-related revenue, according to a source. Or, put another way, as much as $120,000 on average per player.

The only talking the sides did on Friday was with U.S. federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh, who walked back and forth between the league office and NHLPA's hotel several times during almost 13 hours of independent sessions. Beckenbaugh, no stranger to the process after being involved with the NHL's 2004-05 lockout, was said to be trying to help them work through the remaining issues.

The mediation was scheduled to continue on Saturday morning. It was unclear when the NHL and NHLPA might be prepared to hold another face-to-face meeting again.

That last happened on Wednesday night, when talks stretched into early Thursday morning and saw enough progress made for the NHLPA to elect not to declare a "disclaimer of interest" prior to a midnight deadline. Players have since been asked to vote on giving their executive board that power again in a ballot that wraps up at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday.

If they grant them that authority, the union could be dissolved and transformed into a trade association. That would likely be accompanied by anti-trust lawsuits from players and bring even more uncertainty to the negotiating process than already exists.

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