The NHL moved a step closer to losing the season on Tuesday, when the league and players' association rejected proposals for a new collective bargaining agreement.
The second negotiating session in a week lasted 3 1/2 hours. The league turned down the players' association offer from last Thursday and presented a salary-cap based counterproposal for an hour. The union then held its own discussions for 2 1/2 hours before rejecting the offer and ending the meeting on the 90th day of the lockout.
No new meetings have been scheduled, making it quite possible that the NHL will become the first North American sports league to cancel a full season because of a labor dispute.
The major difference between the sides remains the salary-cap roadblock. The NHL wants a cap to achieve what it calls cost certainty. The players' association says it will never accept that.
Asked about the prospects of having a season, Ottawa forward Daniel Alfredsson said: "If they stand by their salary cap, the chances are none."
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged the league is after a cap.
"My hope is that the union leadership recognizes that the owners' resolve is great," Bettman said. "We only know of really one approach to meaningfully address and fix our problems. And unless somebody can miraculously come up with another approach, which I am highly skeptical of but always anxious to listen, we're committed to fixing this the right way."
There might be a month left to salvage the season, but the sides seem too far apart on the philosophical difference of a cap. The last NHL lockout ended with a deal on Jan. 11, 1995, allowing for a 48-game season.
This lockout has already forced the cancelation of 414 regular-season games and the 2005 All-Star game.