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If the NHL season is to begin on time, it will have to be with a new collective bargaining agreement in place -- not with replacement players.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday that the season won't start in October if a new agreement hasn't been reached with the union, but left open the possibility that replacement players would be considered if no deal is struck.

The league continues to plan on having hockey in October, Bettman said.

"If we do not have a new collective bargaining agreement, we will not open the season on time," Bettman said. "If that is an eventuality at that juncture, we will have to start again on what options we will pursue."

The likelihood of replacement players taking the ice has diminished greatly since the last board meeting on March 1.

At that time, Bettman and several team representatives stressed that they expected next season to begin on time. The goal has always been to make a deal with the union, but it was clear that other options were being considered.

Replacement players appeared to be the most plausible alternative.

But having become the first major sports league in North America to lose an entire season to a labor dispute, the NHL doesn't seem anxious to jump into that scenario -- yet.

"We have stayed out of the replacement player debate since we thought it was a poorly conceived and ill-advised strategy," Bob Goodenow, the executive director of the players' association, said in a statement. "Finally, it appears the League has come to realize it would be bad for the fans, the sport and the business.

"The NHL should focus its efforts on reaching an agreement with the players."

Bettman was adamant that the board was as unified as ever and said there was plenty of support for all scenarios should a deal with the union fall out of reach.

"We made it clear that we were going to explore all our options," Bettman said. "Exploring your options, doesn't mean you're doing it or not doing it. It doesn't mean it's a good idea or bad idea."

Bettman wouldn't even use the term replacements, choosing "new players" instead.

He didn't set a deadline for a deal and he hasn't expressed one to Bob Goodenow, the executive director of the players' association. The lockout was imposed last Sept. 16 after the expiration of the previous agreement with the union.

Representatives from all 30 NHL teams met in New York for the second time in seven weeks.

"It was really just a far-reaching discussion of all the alternatives and updating us," said Richard Peddie, the president of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment. "In the end, everyone agreed, 'Let's keep focusing on trying to get a deal.'"

Both the NHL and the players' association said that no progress was made during a six-hour negotiating session on Tuesday.

That was the fifth trip to the table for the sides since the season was called off in February.

Sabres going retro

Brad May, Derek Plante and Dominik Hasek return to the Buffalo Sabres as Adelphia Communications has announced it will broadcast "Sabres Retro Fridays" featuring some of the most memorable games in Sabres playoff history.

Adelphia will broadcast games at 9 p.m. for seven straight Fridays on Adelphia Channel 13. May's crowning moment -- beating Boston in overtime on April 24, 1993, to send the Sabres into the second round for the first time in a decade -- kicks things off Friday.

Other games and their air dates:

Hasek makes 70 saves in a 1-0, four-overtime victory over New Jersey on April 27, 1994 (airs April 29).

Plante scores in overtime of Game Seven against Ottawa on April 29, 1997 (airs May 6).

Miroslav Satan scores in the second overtime of Game Two against Ottawa on April 23, 1999 (airs May 13).

Sabres eliminate Toronto to advance to the Stanley Cup finals on May 31, 1999 (airs May 20).

"No goal" in Game Six of Cup finals versus Dallas on June 19, 1999 (airs May 27).

Sabres crush and eliminate Philadelphia, 8-0, on April 21, 2001 (airs June 2).