The NHL labor war is crawling toward a conclusion, but no one knows if the ending will put the players back on the ice.
Or just ice the season.
Optimists say the stalemate will come into better focus after the players' vote on dissolving the union is finalized Thursday. The results may not be known until Friday, and the players would have until Jan. 2 to file the "disclaimer of interest."
Pessimists say the vote may trigger a long legal process that could spell the end of the 2012-13 season.
Thursday was the 95th day of the lockout, and the sides have not had any face-to-face meetings in a week.
"It disappoints me and saddens me because it's just more days lost," Bill Daly, the NHL's deputy commissioner, said in an email to Canada's QMI Agency. "But I'm not sure what meeting does from our side. There is nothing left to give."
Daly said Donald Fehr, executive director of the players' union, "is aiming toward a 'deadline' showdown."
Ah, but what's the deadline?
The deadline for salvaging a partial season depends on when the regular season ends. It is scheduled to end April 13, but the 1995 regular season _ delayed by a lockout _ didn't start until Jan. 20 and finish until May 3.
Daly did not answer an email from The Inquirer, asking if the NHL could extend the regular season past April 13 _ or if it was locked into that date because of TV commitments for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
If the season had to end April 13, then a 14-week, 48-game campaign would have to start around Jan. 5. That would put the deadline for a new collective bargaining agreement at around Christmas, giving players time to return from Europe and have a short training camp.
If the end of the regular season can be pushed back, then the season could start later.
On Wednesday, Daly said the season must start by "mid-January" to have a 48-game season.
Meanwhile, amidst a lot of posturing and legal mumbo jumbo, the negotiations have stopped.
The players, in a five-day online voting process that ends Thursday, will decide whether to ask their executive board to dissolve the union. A two-thirds majority is needed, and it would give the players the ability to file a "disclaimer of interest" in the courts and claim the lockout is illegal
Locked in a labor dispute with the owners last year, NBA players voted to disband the union, but it had a new CBA 12 days later.
The NHL, after getting wind of the players' plan to dissolve the union, filed a class-action suit Friday in an attempt to block the disclaimer.
The NHL is unsuccessful in proving to the courts that the lockout is legal, it wants all players' contracts to become void, causing them to become unrestricted free agents.
Can you say CHAOTIC?
The league, which has added $300 million to the players' "make whole" provision, wants a 10-year CBA and a five-year maximum on individual contracts _ seven years if teams are re-signing their own players. The players want an eight-year CBA and an eight-year maximum on individual contracts.
There are also issues over amnesty buyouts (the players want them, the owners don't), caps on escrow and the cap's ceiling.
Games have been canceled through Dec. 30, and more cancellations could come this week.