TORONTO - After a lockout spanning almost nine weeks, about the only thing the NHL and NHL Players' Association are talking about is taking a break.
Commissioner Gary Bettman has proposed placing a two-week moratorium on talks after NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr told him that he didn't know how the sides could proceed, multiple sources told The Canadian Press on Thursday night.
The offer was made during a phone conversation on Wednesday and didn't produce an answer. According to the sources, Fehr told Bettman he would need to bounce the idea off his membership before responding.
The potential freeze comes with talks already having fallen silent after a busy stretch of meetings last week in New York. However, by the time negotiations broke last Sunday afternoon it was clear that pessimism and some bad feelings had made their way into the bargaining room.
Some of the tension can be chalked up to losses that are beginning to mount. On Thursday, players missed their third paycheque of the season while the league moved closer to making another round of game cancellations, prompting some to suggest the entire year could be in danger.
Asked about that possibility on Thursday morning, deputy commissioner Bill Daly replied: "I hope not."
"But I'm more discouraged now than I have been at any point in the process," Daly added.
The NHL is expected to start wiping games beyond Nov. 30 off the schedule early next week. There had previously been hope for a shortened 68-game season starting Dec. 1, but that now appears to be gone.
In total, the lockout has already forced the cancellation of 327 games, including the Winter Classic between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings at Michigan Stadium. The league's other big mid-season event — the Jan. 27 all-star game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus — is also expected to be formally cancelled in the near future.
Earlier this week, NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr indicated that he thought a new CBA could be completed quickly once a breakthrough was made in negotiations.
"One thing Bill Daly and I agree upon is that when the moment is right the deal could be done very quickly," Fehr said Monday. "One days, three days or whatever."
The right moment doesn't appear to be forthcoming. Fehr also acknowledged that the union and league remained split on three major issues: the division of money, player contract rights and who pays for the damage caused by the lockout.
The lack of progress in talks has started raising fears that the NHL might lose another year to a labour dispute. Even though the 2004-05 season was cancelled by Bettman on Feb. 16, it's strongly believed the league wouldn't put the decision off that long if the 2012-13 season was to meet the same fate.
A deal that saved a 48-game season following the 1994-95 lockout was signed on Jan. 11.