NHL lockout wipes out opening 2 weeks of season

Associated Press Published: October 5, 2012
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NEW YORK (AP) — Stop if you've heard this one before: the NHL is losing games because of a lockout.

The first cut was two weeks of games, and judging by the sniping between the league and its players, no end is in sight.

In a widely anticipated move, the NHL announced Thursday that 82 games between opening night next week and Oct. 24 have been canceled because of the ongoing fight with the players' association that had already forced the league to eliminate the preseason schedule.

It was just seven years ago that the NHL absorbed its biggest blemish by canceling the entire 2004-05 season in its ultimately successful bid to gain a salary cap. Now the league is fighting to gain even more financial control of the sport.

What seemed inevitable became reality Thursday in a brief two-paragraph statement stating that this dispute would again cause games to be wiped off the schedule. It isn't clear if they will be made up, allowing for a complete 82-game regular season, if a deal can be struck soon with the locked-out players.

Unable to work out how to split up $3 billion in hockey-related revenues with the players' association, the NHL canceled all four opening-night games next Thursday and 78 more over the following two weeks.

"We were extremely disappointed to have to make today's announcement," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement. "The game deserves better, the fans deserve better, and the people who derive income from their connection to the NHL deserve better.

"We remain committed to doing everything in our power to forge an agreement that is fair to the players, fair to the teams, and good for our fans. This is not about 'winning' or 'losing' a negotiation. This is about finding a solution that preserves the long-term health and stability of the league and the game. We are committed to getting this done."

The union countered Thursday by saying the NHL forced the lockout onto the players instead of letting the season go on as planned.

"The decision to cancel the first two weeks of the NHL season is the unilateral choice of the NHL owners," NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr said in a statement. "If the owners truly cared about the game and the fans, they would lift the lockout and allow the season to begin on time while negotiations continue.

"A lockout should be the last resort in bargaining, not the strategy of first resort," he added. "For nearly 20 years, the owners have elected to lock out the players in an effort to secure massive concessions. Nevertheless, the players remain committed to playing hockey while the parties work to reach a deal that is fair for both sides. We hope we will soon have a willing negotiating partner."

Although there have been negotiations between the league and players in recent days — unlike a three-month break at the start of the 2004-05 lockout that forced the cancellation of the entire season — the two sides haven't gotten any closer to a deal on core economic issues.

No new talks are currently planned.

"Obviously, (cancellations) might have been expected but it's also disappointing because we set out to negotiate," New York Rangers goalie Martin Biron said in a telephone interview. "We wanted to get a deal and wanted to avoid a work stoppage or any cancellations.

"We're still working hard to find a solution and find a way to get the core economic stuff figured out with the league and getting a deal that is fair for everybody and lasts."

In the previous lockout, the NHL and the union didn't get together between early September and early December.

Back then, the key words in the negotiations were salary cap, linkage and cost certainty. Commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners were committed to getting a deal that linked team costs to revenues, so each club would know exactly how much it had to spend on payroll and what number it couldn't exceed.

Thus a salary cap was born for the first time in NHL history. The league produced record revenue during the seven years of that deal, which turned out much better for the players than expected.

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