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No NHL games through Jan. 14

(MCT) — LOS ANGELES—The NHL on Thursday canceled two more weeks’ worth of games and pushed its dispute with the NHL Players’ Association near the point of no return.

The league wiped out games through Jan. 14 for a total of 625 canceled games, or 50.8 percent of the schedule. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said via email Thursday that there had been no recent contact between the two sides and that no new negotiations were planned.

The NHL’s latest announcement — made, like those that preceded it, in a terse statement — for all intents creates a short-term deadline for preserving even a severely shortened season. The NHL canceled the entire 2004-05 season because of a labor dispute, the first major North American sports league to take such a drastic step.

Two weeks ago, after three days of talks in New York failed to bridge the gap between the league and the union, Commissioner Gary Bettman said 48 games would be the fewest each team could play in “a season with integrity.” That was the number each team played following a labor dispute that delayed the start of the 1994-95 season and wasn’t resolved until Jan. 10, 1995.

Daly declined to say whether the league was setting a deadline by canceling games through Jan. 14.

“I’ll let you draw whatever conclusions you want to draw based on what’s out there,” he said. “We aren’t saying that.”

Federal mediators have twice intervened in the dispute, which remains stalled over three central tenets.

The NHL has said it won’t compromise on a 10-year term for the next collective bargaining agreement with an opt-out clause after eight years; on limiting players’ contracts to five years, with a seven-year exception for teams re-signing their own free agents and a maximum year-to-year variance in value of 5 percent; and on prohibiting buyouts or a cap on players’ escrow payments as they transition from a 57 percent share of hockey-related revenue to a 50-50 split in a new agreement.

Players on Friday will complete electronic voting on whether to authorize their executive board to dissolve the union by filing a disclaimer of interest. A two-thirds majority is required for approval. Filing a disclaimer is considered a tactical move designed to spur negotiations, but the NHL’s latest cancellation has limited the amount of time save a 48-game season.

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