NHL labor dispute hits critical stage

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TORONTO (AP) - The first truly tense moments of the NHL's collective bargaining negotiations have arrived.

With NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players' Association head Donald Fehr not scheduled to sit across from one another until the middle of next week and the sides unable to even agree on the core issues that need to be addressed, a sense of uneasiness has suddenly enveloped the talks.

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After Wednesday's session, in which the NHL dismissed the union's initial proposal, Fehr set off for pre-scheduled player meetings in Chicago. The union boss will also oversee a session with players in Kelowna, British Columbia, before returning to Toronto to rese CBA discussions Aug. 22.

At that point, the league and the NHL Players' Association will have just 24 days left to reach a new agreement and avoid a lockout. The current CBA runs out on Sept. 15. The regular season is slated to begin Oct. 11.

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