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Even phone calls stop between NHL and union

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NEW YORK (AP) - Now the NHL and the locked-out players' association aren't even talking by phone.

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With the lockout about to enter its third month, communications between the fighting sides have come to a halt with no clear sign of what the next step will be or when it will be taken.

``No, we have not communicated today,'' NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press on Wednesday in an email. ``No meetings scheduled, and no plans to meet.''

After four straight days of negotiations in New York last week, talks broke off angrily Friday night. Discussions resumed on Sunday, solely regarding player contract terms, but that meeting ended after only 90 minutes.

The union contends that the NHL doesn't want to get back together yet.

``The players remain prepared to resume negotiations at any time,'' NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr said.

At this point, no decisions have been made to call off any more games, Daly said. So far, 327 games - all those scheduled through Nov. 30 and the New Year's Day outdoor Winter Classic - have been cancelled by the NHL.

More could be coming soon if a deal isn't reached. It is believed that an agreement would need to be in place by the end of next week for the season to get under way on Dec. 1.

That is starting to look unlikely because of the mere fact that the sides are unable to find common ground on the big issues keeping them apart. It is more than just finances preventing a deal. The disagreements over player contract terms have emerged as just big an impasse.

The NHL wants to limit contracts to five years, make rules to prohibit back-diving contracts the league feels circumvent the salary cap, keep players ineligible for unrestricted free agency until they are 28 or have eight years of professional service time, cut entry-level deals to two years, and make salary arbitration after five years.

A few hours into last Friday's session, negotiations broke down over the core economic differences that separate the sides.

A lockout wiped out the entire 2004-05 season.

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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