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Lockout forces NHL to cancel games through December 14

(Reuters) - The National Hockey League (NHL) axed another two weeks of the regular season and scrapped the 2013 All-Star Game in Columbus on Friday given a lockout of players that puts the entire season in jeopardy.

The decision by the NHL, which has said it is losing $18-$20 million a day during the lockout, wipes out action through December 14 and brings the total number of lost regular season games to 422, or 34.3 percent of the 2012-13 regular season.

"Losing more regular-season games as well as the 2013 NHL All-Star weekend in Columbus is extremely disappointing," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement.

"We feel badly for NHL fans and particularly those in Columbus, and we intend to work closely with the Blue Jackets organization to return the NHL All-Star events to Columbus and their fans as quickly as possible."

The regular season was originally scheduled to begin on October 11 but the NHL locked out its players in mid-September when the previous labor agreement expired with the two sides at odds over how to split $3.3 billion in revenue.

Hopes of salvaging even a partial season are fading quickly with NHL owners and players union at a standoff.

The latest proposal from the NHL Players' Association, which estimates the gap on core economic issues at $182 million, was shot down on Wednesday with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman saying the two sides were still far apart.

"Bettman said that the league is losing $18-$20 million per day during the lockout, therefore two more weeks of canceled games far exceeds the current economic gap," NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr said in a statement.

"It makes the NHL's announcement of further game cancellations, including the 2013 All-Star Weekend, all the more unnecessary, and disappointing for all hockey fans."

While both sides have agreed in principle to a 50-50 split of hockey related revenue, they remain at odds over how they will reach the target.

Owners are demanding an immediate reduction from the 57 percent players received under the previous agreement while the union would like to see the cuts brought in gradually.

The players and owners also have deep differences on several other key points, including contract restraints and free agency.

The stalemate has pushed the NHL closer to the brink of having to cancel an entire season for the second time in eight years.

The cancellation of more games comes amid reports that NHL players are considering decertifying the union, just as National Football League players did during their efforts to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement last year.

Such a move would allow individual players to take their fight to the courts where they could test anti-trust laws, sue the league for unfair business practices or ask the judge to end the lockout.

The NHL's All-Star weekend was set for January 24-27.

"The Blue Jackets are very disappointed for our fans that All-Star festivities will not be coming to our great city in January," Blue Jackets President Mike Priest said in a statement.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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