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Commish claims locked-out union in denial

11/2/2004

As the NHL lockout concludes its seventh week with no sign of movement from either side to resume collective bargaining negotiations, commissioner Gary Bettman said the chances of no NHL hockey being played this season are growing.

"The season is likely to slip away," he said during an exclusive interview with Canadian cable sports network TSN. "Whether or not we miss half a season or three-quarters of a season, or don't have a season at all -- that is not the issue from our standpoint," Bettman said. "We need a deal that is the right deal to address the problems and let us go forward. When we make that deal, when it is all signed up, we initial it, dot the i's, cross the t's, we both ratify it. Then if there is time for the semblance of a season, we'll have one.

"If not, we'll see you next season or whenever."

Because the union questions the league's claim of $273 million in losses last season and refuses to consider a salary cap, Bettman isn't optimistic any progress will be made in time to resume play this season.

"We are still, interestingly enough, in a context where the union is still denying that we have problems. It's very difficult to negotiate over solutions to problems that everybody in the world except union leadership believes exists. I think this is a union that is deadline hunting; unfortunately, I think the season may slip away without a deadline."

Bettman reiterated to TSN that there is no deadline to decide whether or not a season would be played.

"It's not about when we come back, it's how we come back," he said. "That's what we are committed to. There hasn't been a deadline, and I won't give you one because we are not focused on one."

More than 120 games have already been officially called off, but Bettman maintains that ownership is willing to wait as long as necessary to forge a deal that works for the league in the long term.

"I say this -- and I hate when I say it," he added, "we lose less money when we are not playing. The problems are so severe that we need to fix it the right way. The damage we will suffer if we don't fix it, now that we have the opportunity to do it, is incalculable."