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NHL cancels games through Dec. 30 as lockout continues

NEW YORK – The NHL announced Monday that all games have been cancelled through Dec. 30.

The earliest a shortened NHL season will start is Dec. 31.

The league cancelled another 104 regular-season games on Monday afternoon, bringing the total number wiped away by the lockout to 526. That represents nearly 43 per cent of the season.

The entire schedule through Dec. 30 plus the Jan. 1 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium and Jan. 27 all-star game in Columbus is now off the books.

Sportsnet Hockey Central at Noon host Jeff Marek said the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association are not that far off from closing in on a deal.

“I really think that the NHL is hopeful that they can get this deal put to bed as quickly as this week.”

“Make no mistake about it, these two sides are much closer than they’ve ever been,” he said. “It’s almost to the point where it’s inconceivable that a deal does not get done at this point.”

The league and players’ association appeared to be close to deal last week before negotiations fell apart.

After talks broke down, commissioner Gary Bettman said the league needs to be able to fit in at least 48 games per team to save the season, which means a new collective bargaining agreement likely has to be signed within the next month.

“When it gets to the point where we can’t play a season with integrity, with a representative schedule, then we’ll be done,” said Bettman. “If you go back in history, in ’94-95 I think we played 48 games. I can’t imagine wanting to play fewer than that.”

The NHL became the first North American sports league to cancel an entire season due to a labour dispute in 2004-05. At that time, the NHL and NHLPA negotiated into February and were attempting to reach a deal that would see teams play just 28 games each.

That type of scenario is unlikely to be repeated.

When the NHL staged a 48-game season following the 1994-95 lockout, the CBA was agreed to on Jan. 11 and the puck was dropped on Jan. 20. The regular season ran through May 3 and saw the Stanley Cup awarded on June 24 thanks to sweeps in four of the last seven playoff series.

There appeared to be reason to believe the start of the 2012-13 was imminent when NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr met reporters on Thursday night in New York after delivering a new proposal to the league. He claimed the sides had found agreement on virtually all of the main issues.

However, Fehr later returned and said the NHL had rejected the offer and pulled its own off the table. The union leader continues to believe a deal isn’t very far off.

“My comments from a couple of days ago stand on their own,” Fehr said Saturday after speaking to the Canadian Auto Workers in Toronto. “I think we were very close.”

There are currently no further talks scheduled, although both sides have expressed interest in returning to the bargaining table this week.

Progress was made in the last round of talks with Fehr and Bettman left on the sidelines and a new group of owners and players at the table. However, the leaders are likely to be back in the room when negotiations resume.

That’s particularly important to the players, who received a chilly reception from owners last week after suggesting Fehr rejoin the meetings.

“I can’t envision a scenario, where without the help of mediation or our leadership, that we can close any deal,” Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey said last week. “I don’t see how we could do it.”

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