- Associated Press - Saturday, September 15, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) - With only hours until a threatened NHL lockout, the league and the players’ union appear no closer to a deal.

For nearly a year, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has vowed to lock out players for the second time in eight years if a new collective bargaining agreement isn’t reached by the time the current one expires at midnight EDT Saturday.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and players’ association special counsel Steve Fehr, the brother of NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, were expected to speak to each other Saturday morning to see if face-to-face talks would take place. If a deal isn’t set by the end of the day, the NHL begins its fourth work stoppage since 1992.

While this lockout might not wipe out the whole season the way one did in 2004-05 lockout, a good chunk of games could be lost without productive talks soon. Brief conversations Thursday night and Friday between leaders on both sides have yet to spur the parties to return to bargaining. The phone conversations concerned information requests from both sides.

Bettman has repeatedly said that the NHL won’t operate under the CBA that ended the previous lockout in July 2005. Under that scenario, it would appear unlikely that training camps will open next week as scheduled,. The regular season, to begin Oct. 11, also would be in peril.

Once the lockout was imposed in September 2004, the sides didn’t get back together again until December.

Players absorbed a salary-cap system and took an immediate 24 percent rollback of existing contracts in 2005 in exchange for 57 percent of hockey-related revenues. The NHL now says that figure is too high, and is willing to have another league shutdown to reduce that share to 49 percent to 47 percent.

Its original offer was to cut it to 43 percent, and an updated proposal raised it to 46 before another new offer pushed it a little higher Wednesday, the last time the sides met at the negotiating table.

The most recent proposal from the league _ with a six-year term _ came in direct response to one put forth by the union earlier Wednesday that was rejected as being similar to the players’ two previous offers.

Instead of making a percentage-based offer, the union is seeking a deal that would guarantee players annually at least the $1.8 billion in salaries paid out last season

Bettman said the league’s latest offer would be pulled off the table once the current CBA expired because immediate damage caused by a lockout would force the NHL to reassess what it could then offer.

In the previous lockout, both sides dug in over the salary cap. Owners wouldn’t make a deal without it, and players sacrificed a full season before finally agreeing to a cost-certainty system for teams.

Without such a philosophical difference this time, the sides merely have to figure out a way to divide hockey revenues that grew from $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion under the expiring deal.

It remains unclear whether the sides will settle in time for the NHL to hold its marquee New Year’s Day outdoor Winter Classic at 115,000-seat Michigan Stadium between the host Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The All-Star game is Jan. 27 and is to be hosted by the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the league’s struggling small-market teams.

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