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NHL trims 52 games from its season

Fifty-two hockey games permanently went down the drain Monday and there doesn't appear to be a plug in sight.

The NHL, conceding that the entire season cannot be saved because of the 24-day lockout, announced that all 26 teams will have their schedules cut from 84 games to 80.

"Each team will lose two home games and two road games," the NHL said in a statement.

The exact four games each team will have canceled will not be released "until a start date for the season can be determined," the league said. If the lockout drags on, more games are likely to be canceled.

Brian Burke, the NHL's director of hockey operations, has said the season can't go past June because some buildings will be unavailable.

All signs indicate the labor dispute won't be solved soon. The two sides appear as far apart as they were when the lockout began Oct. 1.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and union boss Bob Goodenow spoke for the first time in nine days on Thursday. They also spoke on the phone Friday and met face-to-face Monday in Chicago.

The result? "No progress," said NHL spokesman Arthur Pincus.

"They met for a few hours, they held some general discussions," said NHL Players Association spokesman Steve MacAllister. "There were no new proposals and they talked about planning for future meetings."

No new negotiations are scheduled.

When the revised schedule is released, it will take into account "competitive balance, division and conference play, building availability and travel," the statement said. "For those reasons, any game that has been postponed (134 as of Monday) may be rescheduled for later in the season."

Several teams have announced refund policies. The Lightning plans to announce its policy today.

Economically, the loss of the two home games won't hurt the Lightning, team vice president Mel Lowell said. "Like I said before, this team is in a position where our expenses presently exceed our revenues," Lowell said. "When our players are not being paid, it's a reduction of our expenses. The reason there is a lockout is because of teams like us."

The loss of the two home games also shouldn't hurt the bottom line of the ThunderDome, where the Lightning plays. Dome spokesman Bill Boggs said the Lightning pays the Dome rent based on the season and not on a per-game basis. He also said the incentives built in the lease were based on average attendance and not total attendance.

The NHL and the Lightning would not comment on whether the players would lose a portion of their annual salaries.

But all players are expected to be hurt economically. NHL players are paid over the length of the regular season, originally scheduled to be 192 days. The loss of four games equals about nine days, or a season shortened 4.7 percent.

Lightning center Chris Gratton, for example, would lose about 4.7 percent of his $550,000 base salary ($25,850).

"I hope we can play 80 games," Lightning wing Marc Bureau said. "I'd rather play 80 than 40."

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