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NHL NEGOTIATIONS BREAK OFF; SHORTENED SEASON IN JEOPARDY

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The NHL season is perched precariously in the back seat, the gas pedal is down to the floor and danger lurks on the road ahead.

Labor talks ended abruptly Friday, even though a collective bargaining agreement probably needs to be in place by mid-December to save the season."You're saying we have two more weeks, but I'm not quite sure. And even if we did, it goes by awfully quickly," said Cliff Fletcher, the Toronto Maple Leafs' general manager. "It's like driving a car 100 miles an hour, racing toward a cliff. You'd better make sure you know how to put the brakes on in time."

So far, the sides only know how to put the brakes on negotiations. The latest delay guarantees that the owners' lockout will carry into a 10th week.

An eight-hour meeting Thursday had produced hope that an accord could be reached in time to salvage a 50-game season. But the sides met for only an hour Friday before agreeing to table talks until Monday in Chicago.

"What you hope will happen after a break like this is that people come back to the table with new ideas or new concepts or new proposals and the thing moves forward quickly," NHL senior vice president Brian Burke said.

"But the calendar is coming toward us like a freight train. At some point, it's not going to be possible to have a season. Hopefully, that's going to add some pressure to the talks from both sides."

The players, however, insist they've been operating with a sense of urgency and say they've been making all the concessions.