The NHL on Wednesday canceled 10 more games per team and worked on plans for a 50-game season with a completely new schedule matching teams solely against conference opponents.
That schedule, which reflects the minimum number of games the league says would constitute a meaningful season, would take effect if the lockout ended by mid- or late December. Clubs would then conduct training camps of seven to 10 days and play one exhibition game each to benefit charity. Playoff seedings would be based on conference standings, as they were last season.
However, there are no indications that the 34-day-old dispute will be resolved in time to salvage 50 games. Commissioner Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow, executive director of the NHL Players Assn., reported no progress after meeting Monday for only the second time since Oct. 11. They are not likely to talk again until next Monday. Through Wednesday, 183 games had been wiped out.
"We're getting very close to the point of no return now," said Toronto's Mike Gartner, president of the NHLPA.
Said Tony Tavares, president of the Mighty Ducks, "You've got to have half the season. If you're not going to do that, what's the sense of bothering?"
Wednesday's cancellations brought the total to 14, one-sixth of each club's 84-game schedule. Each club lost an additional four home games, four road games and two neutral-site games. Which games will be wiped out besides the neutral-site games won't be announced until a starting date for the season is determined.
Proceeds from the neutral-site games, which were run as a joint venture with the NHLPA, helped bankroll the players' pension fund. The NHL said those cancellations were made after discussion with the union.
Twenty-six games were scheduled at neutral sites.
While the NHL pared its schedule, 200 players met in Toronto to be updated on the negotiations and on the NHLPA's plan to provide insurance for them at its exhibition tournament Nov. 10-12 in Hamilton. Afterward, they reaffirmed their solidarity.
"We're not going to bend for all the wrong reasons," Buffalo Sabre forward Brad May said. "It's a psychological fight as much as a financial one now. The frustrating thing is, there doesn't seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel."