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Hockey Runs Out Of Puck

With no miracle save in sight and a weekend deadline long gone, the NHL made plans for a news conference Tuesday to cancel what little remained of a season already decimated by a lockout.

A public relations executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that planning was under way Monday for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to make the announcement at a news conference in New York.

The Canadian Press, citing an unidentified source, said Bettman will cancel the season at the news conference.

The NHL would become the first major professional league in North America to cancel an entire season because of a labor dispute. This would mark the first time the Stanley Cup was not awarded since a flu epidemic canceled the finals in 1919.

Asked about The Canadian Press report, NHL spokesman Frank Brown said the league had no immediate comment.

After vowing not to reach out to each other after two days of talks broke off Thursday, the sides met Sunday at the request of a high-ranking federal mediator. Neither Bettman nor players' association executive director Bob Goodenow attended.

But that round of talks in Washington was also unsuccessful, with both sides saying that no progress was made.

Neither side has been willing to budge on the salary-cap issue — the NHL has said it is necessary in any new deal, and the players' association has rejected it as a solution.

NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly was joined Sunday at the five-hour meeting by outside counsel Bob Batterman, with players' association senior director Ted Saskin and outside counsel John McCambridge on the other side.

The sides were assisted by mediators twice before, as recently as a Feb. 2 negotiating session in Newark, N.J. Sunday's meeting was requested by Scot B. Beckenbaugh, the acting director of the U.S. Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service.

Neither side thought mediation would help end the stalemate that has lasted five months.

The lockout reached its 152nd day Monday, a day after the NHL was to hold its All-Star game in Atlanta.

Bettman said the sides needed to start putting a deal on paper by the weekend if the NHL was going to hold a 28-game season and a 16-team playoff.

The NHL said its 30 clubs need to know what their costs would be, and the only way that could be achieved is with a salary cap that linked league revenues to player costs.

A cap was an automatic deal-breaker for the union even though it agreed that the financial landscape had to change. The players' association contended that there are many other ways to fix it.

The sides have traded proposals throughout the lockout that started Sept. 16. But the salary cap has always been the sticking point. Other issues such as arbitration, revenue-sharing, and rookie caps, never reached the true negotiating stage because the sides couldn't agree on the big issue.

On Friday, the NHL sent a memo to its 30 clubs, allowing them to contact players — something that was previously forbidden. The memo also allowed team executives to speak publicly about the lockout without being subject to fines.

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