The National Hockey League says a full 82-game season is not possible if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't reached by Thursday.
And with no talks planned, a shortened schedule is beginning to look like the best-case scenario.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly says there is no way a full schedule can start after Nov. 2.
The league says training camps would have to open by Friday in order for the season to begin a week later.
'It is hard to make progress without talking.'— NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr after NHL rejects invite to resume talks
On Tuesday night, the NHL Players' Association extended an invitation to resume bargaining.
But the league declined the offer, saying it was told the union wasn't ready to table a new offer or start negotiating off the NHL's proposal from last week.
"The League is apparently unwilling to meet," said NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr. "That is unfortunate as it is hard to make progress without talking."
The sides haven't met since the NHL turned down three counterproposals from the union on Thursday, two days after the NHL's offer that included a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue.
The developments on Tuesday night came hours after more discourse between the sides on the 38th day of the league's lockout.
While negotiators for the NHL and union kept conversations to a minimum, club officials had a brief window last week to discuss the league's latest proposal.
Those secretive discussions haven't produced any breakthrough, but they have inflamed an already unsettled atmosphere. The union hierarchy wasn't informed about the window then, and isn't happy about it.
"Most owners are not allowed to attend bargaining meetings," Fehr said. "No owners are allowed to speak to the media about the bargaining. It is interesting that they are secretly unleashed to talk to the players about the meetings the players can attend, but the owners cannot."
The NHL said Tuesday that team officials were able to have temporary contact with players, although there were parameters regarding what could be discussed.
"From our perspective, this is a nonissue and a nonstory," Daly said Tuesday in an email to The Associated Press. "There is nothing — legally or otherwise — that precludes club personnel from communicating with their players."
But, more important, is the fact that NHL officials aren't haven't productive talks with union leaders. Now it seems that a full season, starting on Nov. 2, won't take place.
As of now, the league has called off all games through Nov. 1. Without a deal this week, those games are in danger of being called off for good.
Last week, the NHL's most recent contract offer was presented to the union and then publicly released in full. The union returned to the bargaining table last Thursday with its various counterproposals, that would also get to an even split of hockey revenue, but each was quickly rejected by the league.
There is a major divide between the sides over how to deal with existing player contracts. The union wants to ensure that those are all paid in full without affecting future player contracts.
No negotiations have taken place since last week, but the sides held two conference calls over the weekend to address questions the union had regarding the NHL offer.
After the NHL released it on Wednesday, club officials were given until Friday to speak to players and answer questions they might have about the proposal.
In an internal league memo obtained by The Canadian Press, the NHL stated that those discussions must be limited to the contents of the proposal on the table. It also provided examples of questions that shouldn't be asked of players and noted that straying from the rules could "cause serious legal problems."
"You may not ask [a player] what he or others have in mind," the memo stated. "If he volunteers what he has in mind you should not respond positively or negatively or ask any questions but instead refer him to the NHLPA.
"Likewise, you may not suggest hypothetical proposals that the league might make in the future or that the league might entertain from the union."
This was the first time club officials were permitted by the NHL to talk to players since the lockout took effect Sept. 16.