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NHL's labour negotiations slow to a crawl

NHL's labour negotiations slow to a crawlFILE - In this Dec. 6, 2012, file photo, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, right, and deputy commissioner Bill Daly speak to reporters in New York. Bettman has told the players union that a deal must be in place by Jan. 11 in order for a 48-game season to be played beginning eight days later.(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

NEW YORK, N.Y. - The NHL's collective bargaining talks appear to be heading towards the brink.

With the process still in mediation on Friday night and the sides spending another day apart, talks ground to a halt just one week from a deadline to save the season 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.

That extra lost week 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 for a couple independent sessions with each side. It was unclear when they 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.

In the meantime, lawyer Shepard Goldfein — who represents the NHL — filed a memo with the district court in New York on Friday informing judge Paul Engelmayer that the sides agreed that they wouldn't need an expedited briefing schedule despite the ongoing talks.

As a result, the labour fight won't likely get very far in the courts unless the NHL and NHLPA are unable to reach a deal and another season is cancelled.

There seemed to be a growing feeling among everyone involved in the process that negotiations were headed down to the wire. A few eyebrows were raised when Penguins defenceman Kris Letang travelled to Russia this week to sign on with SKA St. Petersburg, but Pittsburgh teammate Sidney Crosby said Friday he was content to wait things out before finding a place to play in Europe.

"You wait this long, trying to be optimistic, you can wait another week or however long until we know," Crosby told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "What's another week? After that, I'll have a pretty good idea of what I'm going to do.

"At this point, I'm just worried about playing here."

After more than six months of negotiations, it still remained to be seen whether the face of the sport would get that opportunity.

The sides have moved closer to one another with a series of proposals since Dec. 27, but still need to find agreement on the salary cap for next season, the length of player contracts, salary variance, the length of the CBA and pension plan, among other things.

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