Lockout forces NHL to cancel 96 regular-season games and all-star game
A nearly empty hockey stick rack in the Buffalo Sabres locker room is shown at the First Niagara Center, home of the Buffalo Sabres NHL hockey team, in Buffalo, N.Y., Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012. (AP / David Duprey)
By Chris Johnston, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, November 23, 2012 1:14PM CST
Last Updated Friday, November 23, 2012 6:09PM CST
Arenas around the NHL will remain dark for at least another three weeks.
Ninety-six more regular-season games were wiped off the schedule Friday along with the Jan. 27 all-star game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus as the ongoing lockout continued to carve a hole in the 2012-13 season.
"The reality of losing more regular-season games as well as the 2013 NHL all-star weekend in Columbus is extremely disappointing," deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement.
With everything now cancelled through Dec. 14, the best-case scenario for the NHL is a shortened schedule of approximately 60 games per team. All of those games would be played within a team's own conference, according to a source.
Of course, that will only happen if the NHL and NHL Players' Association can sign off on a new collective bargaining agreement -- and soon.
The sides last sat at the bargaining table on Wednesday, when the NHLPA presented a new proposal, and they have no current plans to meet again. The union believes the remaining gap in negotiations could have been bridged had the league accepted that offer rather than cancelling more games.
"The gap that remains on the core economic issues is $182 million," said NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr. "On Wednesday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said that the league is losing $18-20 million per day during the lockout, therefore two more weeks of cancelled games far exceeds the current economic gap. 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 -- especially those in Columbus.
"The players remain ready to negotiate but we require a willing negotiating partner."
The current lockout has forced the NHL to cancel 422 regular-season games in total, plus the Winter Classic and all-star game, which amounts to over 34 per cent of the season.
This is familiar territory for a league in its third lockout in the last 18 years -- each with Bettman as commissioner. The combined losses from those labour disputes now sits at 2,120 regular-season games, three all-star games, one Winter Classic and the entire 2005 playoffs.
On Friday, Blue Jackets president Mike Priest said his team was "very disappointed" that it would miss out on the chance of hosting its first ever all-star game. The NHL remains committed to bringing the event to the city eventually.
"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," said Daly.
Nothing will happen before a new CBA is signed. Progress has been hard to find during recent negotiations, with Bettman saying Wednesday that the sides remained "far apart" despite a new proposal by the NHLPA that borrowed from framework previously put forward by the league.
The union proposed a 50-50 split of revenues along with US$393 million in deferred payments to help ease the transition to a lower share for players. The NHL's last offer was for a 50-50 split and $211 million.
There are also a number of contracting issues still to be addressed.
As a result, Bettman still sees a wide gap in negotiations and indicated that some owners have asked him to remove the league's latest offer from the table.
"The union has had our best economic proposal and that was in the context of playing an 82-game season," Bettman said earlier this week. "That proposal was summarily rejected and any expectation that the offer is going to get better as time goes on is not realistic."
Fehr believes his constituents have shown a willingness to negotiate by narrowing the financial gap to $182 million over five years. Like his counterpart, he indicated the best offer from his side had already been put forward.
"The players have done everything they could to get the game back on the ice," said Fehr. "This is a fight they didn't want, it's a fight they didn't pick, it's a lockout that they had no part in. And, they're suffering right along with the fans.
"They made an enormous movement in the owner's direction to try and end it and ... that hasn't been successful."
In recent days, the subject of decertification of the NHLPA has become a hot topic within the union, with players discussing it on an internal conference call and Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller telling the Globe and Mail he supported it.
By attempting to decertify, the players would be looking to disband the union and cease negotiating collectively on a CBA, allowing them to challenge the lockout under antitrust laws. NFL and NBA players pursued a similar strategy in recent labour disputes. At this point, it's not a step the NHLPA has decided to take.