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NHL players hope for the best but brace for likely lockout

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks reporters following labor talks between NHL NHL Players' AssociatiToronWednesday Aug. 15 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to reporters following labor talks between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association in Toronto on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

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Updated: September 19, 2012 6:13AM

With a considerable gap between the NHL Players’ Association and the league regarding a new collective bargaining agreement, the players appear to be digging in for a long, grueling fight.

And they insist, for the time being, that they’re unified despite a lockout looking inevitable.

‘‘The last thing that the threat or suggestion of a lockout is is a surprise to the players,’’ NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said Friday after regional meetings ended in Rosemont. ‘‘They’ve had it in the backs of their minds. In some cases, more forward than that. If it has to be, it will be a real shame. It will be unfortunate, but they are prepared for it.’’

About 40 players attended the meetings in Rockford, including Blackhawks Jamal Mayers, Nick Leddy, Ben Smith and Brandon Bollig. None met with the media, but Phoenix Coyotes forward David Moss said the players aren’t discouraged by the lockout threat.

More player meetings are scheduled for next week in British Columbia and Toronto. Fehr is expected to meet Wednesday with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, and they may speak before that.

The players made the last proposal Tuesday. It was rejected by the owners the next day, with Bettman saying ‘‘a wide gap’’ remains. The owners’ original proposal called for major financial concessions from players at time when league revenues are at all-time highs.

Fehr said the players at the Rosemont meetings were ‘‘interested, focused and sobered.’’

‘‘They understand that this can affect their lives if we can’t find a way through this in the immediate future,’’ he said.

He agreed with Bettman that it would be best if a deal could be reached by Sept. 15, when the current agreement expires. But Fehr said that only will happen if ‘‘a common platform around which to construct an agreement’’ is found.

Right now, that doesn’t exist. If there’s a lockout, it would be the third for the NHL since 1994.

‘‘The league are the ones saying that there will be a lockout if we don’t come to a decision,’’ Moss said. ‘‘The players are still very optimistic. . . . You have to prepare accordingly, and guys have done that.’’

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