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NHL season on the brink, not the rink

Ira Podell Associated Press

NEW YORK – With just a little bit of hedging, National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman all but issued a drop-dead date for saving what’s left of the season: this weekend.

The lockout reached its 147th day Wednesday. If a deal is reached, Bettman said, there would be a 28-game regular season and the 16-team playoff structure would be preserved.

“It is clear to me that if we’re not working on a written document by this weekend, I don’t see how we can play any semblance of a season,” Bettman said. “Obviously we will listen to everything the union has to say, but we’ve given all we can give and gone as far as we can go.”

Hours earlier, the players’ association rejected what was described by the league as a compromise proposal during a secret meeting in Toronto, NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly said.

“The NHL delivered a one-page concept to us which they tried to suggest represented a compromise,” players’ association executive director Bob Goodenow said. “The league’s proposal was a transparent attempt to impose on our Dec. 9 proposal the effects of their twice-rejected Feb. 2 triple-cap proposal.”

Goodenow said the sides would meet again. The union asked Bettman and Daly to stay in Toronto through today for negotiating sessions.

“The prospect that we’d be able to conclude an agreement by the end of the weekend is very daunting,” Goodenow said. “It is possible, but I don’t want to discuss the levels of probability.”

The lockout has wiped out 813 of the 1,230 regular-season games.

The NHL offered to go with the players’ association proposal from Dec. 9 that featured a luxury-tax system and an immediate 24 percent rollback on all existing contracts.

But the league also put in place four scenarios that would shift the agreement back to what the league proposed on Feb. 2 – a salary cap that would force teams to spend at least $32 million on player costs but no more than $42 million, including benefits.

Also included in that six-year offer – which could be reopened by the union after four years – was a profit-sharing plan that would allow the players’ association to evenly split revenues over a negotiated level with the league.

“The union’s response was that this was not a framework that they were interested in going forward with,” Bettman said.

Goodenow said that one of the four limits would immediately be exceeded if this deal were put in place, and others could be easily reached.

It was believed that there had been no contact between the sides since last Friday when talks broke off after three straight days of meetings.

The bulk of the negotiations since mid-December were conducted mostly by Daly and players’ association senior director Ted Saskin.

Bettman and Goodenow were invited by the union back to the table last week for two days of talks after the union rejected the league’s previous proposal. Those four were the only people involved in Wednesday’s session.

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