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December 21. 2012 7:39PM

NHL appears to be on a death march

The NHL on Thursday moved one giant step closer to committing suicide.

On Day 96 of the owners' lockout of players, with the two sides not even speaking, the league announced the cancellation of games through Jan. 14. That will mean 625 regular-season games will have been lost, 50.8 percent of the 2012-13 schedule.

Most observers across the league now believe it will end up getting to 100 percent.

"It's probably 70-30 or 80-20 that we're done, no season," said Boston player agent Neil Abbott.

The calendar tells hockey fans a bleak story. The 1994-95 lockout was settled on Jan. 11, in time for the NHL to play a 48-game season starting, after very quick training camps, on Jan. 20. Commissioner Gary Bettman has said he will not accept anything short of a 48-game schedule this time.

So, while time does remain for a deal to get done, the clock is running out fast.

"We're down now to what, it's got to be 2-3 weeks, maximum, before the season is gone," said Abbott. "It doesn't look good. We had some momentum (in negotiations) going a couple of weeks ago, and you had the feeling, 'OK, we're going to get this done.'

"But then it seemed to go south really fast."

And now the sides have gone several days without speaking, and the threat of antitrust litigation hangs over the sport. The league filed a lawsuit last Friday at a federal court in New York asking that their lockout be declared legal.

And the NHL Players Association has been polling its members this week seeking the OK to file a so-called "disclaimer of interest." That, in effect, ends the NHLPA and potentially could be ruled by a court to make the lockout illegal. If that legal avenue is pursued, it's hard to see an agreement being reached before the drop-dead date at some point next month.

"Now we're in the courts," said Abbott. "Well, as an attorney for the last 30 years, I can tell you that when you turn it over to the lawyers that tends to ensure that things will not get done in a hurry. I don't see any good news on the horizon. I suspect there'll be one last gasp sometime between now and about Jan. 10 to put it together. We could still get that 48-game season.

"But boy, you look at what we've gone through the last 3-4 months and you say, 'Wow guys, is this really the best you could do?' It's crazy where this has gotten."

If the season is lost, Abbott has a difficult time seeing how the sides in this ugly fight will patch up their differences and the NHL moves forward with a workable system.

"When you shut the league down and blow it up, which is where we are now, you just don't know how you'll be able to put the pieces back together again," he said. "If they do plan to blow it up, what then? What, do they have some vision of what the new, improved league will look like when they come back?"

Hardly. Indeed, it's getting tougher and tougher to see the NHL coming back at all. And more and more fans probably don't care.

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