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“We put 100 million dollars on the table and it was received with silence,” Bettman said of the union’s response to the offer Wednesday night.

The NHL wants to limit personal player contracts to five years, seven for a club’s own player, and has elevated the issue to the highest level of importance.

“It’s the hill we will die on,” Daly said.

The union countered with an offer of an eight-year maximum length with the variable in salary being no greater than a 25 percent difference between the highest-paid year of the deal and the lowest.

The other NHL demands are a 10-year term on the new agreement, with a mutual opt-out option after eight years, and no compliance buyouts or caps on escrow in the transition phase to the new structure. The union presented an offer of an eight-year deal with a reopener after six.

“The take or give or bottom line on all this is it appears that the union is suggesting because we made substantial movements in certain areas that we’re close to a deal,” Bettman said. “Those moves were contingent on the union specifically agreeing on other things, which while the union may have moved toward, didn’t agree to.”

Bettman added that the six owners involved with the negotiations were taken aback by the players’ reaction to what the NHL felt was a major concession. As soon as the players wanted to negotiate the corresponding demands, the NHL felt it had nothing left to talk about.

“They knew there was a major gulf between us and yet they came down here and told you we were close,” Daly said.

Fehr vehemently disputed that assessment and stuck to his opinion that the sides really aren’t far apart, saying they are “clearly very close if not on top of one another.”

The sides won’t meet again before Saturday at the earliest. While Bettman insisted that a drop-dead date for a deal that would preserve a season with “integrity” hasn’t been established _ even internally _ clearly there isn’t a lot of time to work out an agreement.

“I’m surprised. We feel like we moved in their direction,” Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby said.

The 2004-05 season was lost before the players’ association accepted a deal that included a salary cap for the first time. While no major philosophical issues such as that exist now, the sides don’t appear ready to come to an agreement.

“It looks like this is not going to be resolved in the immediate future,” Fehr said.

A 48-game season was played in 1995 after a lockout stretched into January. Bettman said he wouldn’t have a season shorter than that.

Union special counsel Steve Fehr was stunned by the NHL’s quick rejection of the players’ offer. He missed Daly’s call that came during Donald Fehr’s initial news conference.

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