- Associated Press - Saturday, September 15, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) - The chance of averting an NHL lockout all but disappeared long before the midnight deadline Saturday, setting up the third major work stoppage of a major sports league in 18 months, following the NFL and NBA.

With less than an hour left, there were no signs either side would signal a desire to resume talks, all but guaranteeing NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman would make good on his vow to shut down the league at midnight EDT.

Splitting a revenue pot of $3.3 billion was the central issue.

A lockout was considered such a foregone conclusion, that an NHL spokesman said the league wouldn’t even officially annouce at midnight that it actually was in effect.

“We talked with the union this morning, and in light of the fact that they have nothing new to offer, or any substantive response to our last proposal, there would be nothing gained by convening a bargaining session at this time,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement earlier Saturday. “I’m sure that we will remain in contact in the coming days.”

Barring a last-minute development, this will be the league’s fourth work stoppage since 1992, and the latest chapter in labor unrest that has vexed American professional sports. The NFL was locked out for much of the offseason in 2011 while the last NBA season was shortened from 82 games to 66 and began on Christmas.

Baseball successfully reached a labor deal and some have suggested that the fact MLB didn’t have a work stoppage has to do with the fact that baseball has no salary cap, allowing for more wiggle room in negotiations.

Despite a third straight day of telephone discussions between Daly and players’ association special counsel Steve Fehr, the brother of NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, hopes of face-to-face talks were dashed early Saturday.

“We suggested that the parties meet in advance of the owners’ self-imposed deadline of midnight tonight,” Steve Fehr said Saturday in an emailed statement to the AP. “Don Fehr, myself and several players on the Negotiating Committee were in the City and prepared to meet. The NHL said that it saw no purpose in having a formal meeting.

“There have been and continue to be private, informal discussions between representatives of both sides.”

For nearly a year, Bettman has said he would lock out players when the current CBA expires. It now appears unlikely that training camps will open next week. The regular season is scheduled to begin Oct. 11, but that is also in peril.

“There’s a lot of stuff that still needs to be sorted out. Hopefully things will heat up in the next couple of weeks,” said forward Milan Lucic, who agreed to a three-year extension with the Boston Bruins on Saturday that will pay him an average of $6 million annually. “There’s obviously a little bit of concern, but right now all you can do is stay optimistic and stay positive and hope that a deal will get done.”

While the NHL lockout might not wipe out the whole season as the one in 2004-05 did, a sizeable chunk of games could be lost without productive talks soon.

In jeopardy are a couple of key dates on the calendar: the New Year’s Day outdoor Winter Classic at 115,000-seat Michigan Stadium between the host Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs; and the Jan. 27 All-Star game hosted by the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the league’s struggling small-market teams.

The sides traded proposals Wednesday, but neither new offer moved them closer to a deal. The lack of progress then made a lockout almost inevitable.

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