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Hockey season nears cancellation

February 09, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) - The NHL told the players' association Wednesday that a deal must be reached by this weekend to save the hockey season, a top league official said.

The union rejected what was described as a compromise proposal during a secret meeting Wednesday in Toronto, NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly said.

The sides agreed to keep negotiating through Thursday. But if an agreement is not reached in principle by this weekend, Daly said, then the season likely will be canceled.

Commissioner Gary Bettman scheduled a news conference for Wednesday night. A union spokesman did not immediately return phone calls.

The lockout reached its 147th day Wednesday and has wiped out 813 of the 1,230 regular-season games as well as this weekend's scheduled All-Star game.

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The NHL offered on Wednesday 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.

If it was determined after an unspecified period of time that the deal wasn't working, the agreement would be converted to the league's Feb. 2 proposal that contained 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.

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 players' association executive director Bob 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.

The issue of a salary cap has put the NHL on the brink of losing the entire season.

The NHL has been intent on making a deal that provides a link between league revenues and player costs. The players' association has steadfastly refused to accept a salary cap as a solution to the stalemate.

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