Friday is hard deadline for NHL to settle CBA issues

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Deadlines can be broken or adjusted, but the one imposed by the NHL is being taken seriously, at least in some quarters.

League commissioner Gary Bettman has set a deadline of next Friday for a new collective bargaining agreement to be in place. That would end the owners-imposed lockout and allow for a quick training camp leading into a 48-game season to begin Jan. 19.

The lockout at that point would have been in effect for about four months, easily enough to test players' patience.

"We want to play. But, if you can be patient this long, you can afford to be patient another seven days or so," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said Friday after practicing with eight teammates at Southpointe.

Orpik doesn't see any reason a resolution has to come at the last minute -- "In a perfect world, you could potentially get something done and start [training camp] even earlier than the 12th," he said -- but having a deadline spelled out at least offers something to anticipate.

Without an agreement, the league could cancel the rest of the season. The schedule so far has been wiped out through Jan. 14. Lingering issues include pensions, the 2013-14 salary cap and contract length.

Representatives from the NHL and the NHL Players' Association met separately Friday with federal mediator Scot Bockenbaugh, but that did not lead to face-to-face negotiations.

"I think everyone has that end date in mind," Orpik said. "I think we'll be relieved just to know if we're playing or not. Obviously, we'll be greatly disappointed if we're not, but you get that unknown taken care of [in case] guys want to go to Europe or do other things. It's not hanging over your head."

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has been mulling the option of signing with a club in Europe, assuming he can get a large insurance premium sorted out. Having a deadline approaching could weigh into his decision.

"You wait this long kind of trying to be optimistic [there will be an agreement]," Crosby said. "To wait another week or however long before we know ... it's another week. I think after that, I'll have a pretty good idea of what I'm going to do and start thinking about it a little bit more.

"At this point, I'm pretty much just waiting for updates here."

A lot can happen in the next several days.

For the second time in less than two weeks, the players are voting whether to authorize a disclaimer of interest that would dissolve the union and enable players to file antitrust lawsuits against the league. That window closes tonight.

The authorization is expected to pass, but it passed earlier, too, and the union chose not to file the disclaimer by a deadline earlier this week.

It is unknown what other circumstances could arise, particularly after recent weeks during which proposals and counterproposals have been exchanged as well as harsh glares. The NHLPA has accused the league of subtly changing some wording on issues that formerly were resolved.

"The whole process has been contentious," said Penguins forward and union representative Craig Adams, who returned to Southpointe after participating in CBA talks earlier this week in New York. "Not in an unprofessional way, but, when you're talking about jobs, you tend to take it personally, even if you shouldn't.

"Everyone knows what the issues are. It just comes down to trying to get what you want."

Adams sat in on small-group meetings, large-group meetings and sessions with a mediator.

"It takes all forms," he said. "It's not a fun process, and nobody wants to be doing it, but we've got to figure out a way to come to an agreement at some point."

Asked if he thought the reintroduction of mediation was encouraging or a step back, Adams said: "It's neither. If it can help and both sides want him to be there and are going to do their best to use him to come to an agreement, then it can't hurt."

Something, it would seem, needs to help quickly if the NHL's Friday deadline is to be met.

NOTES -- Former NHL executive Wren Blair died at age 87 in Whitby, Ontario. He was the Penguins president and chief operating officer from 1975-77. ... Penguins center Evgeni Malkin accounted for all of Metallurg Magnitogork's offense with a hat trick in a 3-0 win against Traktor Chelyabinsk in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League. Malkin's first goal came on the power play and was assisted by Senators defenseman and former Penguin Sergei Gonchar. ... SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL introduced Penguins defenseman Kris Letang as its newest member. ... The Johnstown Tomahawks reported that a charity game Wednesday featuring several Penguins sold out in seven minutes.

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For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com and Twitter @pgshelly.


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