By Ira Podell, Associated Press, Las Vegas Sun and U.S. News Agency / Asian
The NHL lockout has forced the cancellation of all games through the end of November.
One day after a league-imposed deadline passed for a deal with the players’ association that would allow for a full season, the NHL announced Friday that 326 regular-season games were lost. That comes out to 26.5 percent of the schedule, from Oct. 11 through Nov. 30.
“The National Hockey League deeply regrets having to take this action,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement.
“By presenting a proposal to the NHLPA that contemplated a fair division of revenues and was responsive to player concerns regarding the value of their contracts, we had hoped to be able to forge a long-term collective bargaining agreement that would have preserved an 82-game regular season for our fans. Unfortunately, that did not occur.
“We acknowledge and accept that there is joint responsibility in collective bargaining and, though we are profoundly disappointed that a new agreement has not been attained to this point.”
The dispute, primarily over money, is somewhat similar to the 2004-05 lockout that led to the cancellation of that entire season — the first time a North American professional sports league lost a complete campaign to a labor dispute.
Reaching a new deal became even tougher on Friday because the NHL pulled its most recent offer to the players — one that included a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues — off the table, Daly told The Associated Press. The NHL proposal was contingent on the league playing a full 82-game season, beginning on Nov. 2, which now won’t happen.
“The league officially informed us today that they have withdrawn their latest proposal and have cancelled another slate of regular-season games,” union executive director Donald Fehr said in a statement. “This is deeply disappointing for all hockey fans and everyone who makes their living from hockey, including the players. But it comes as no surprise.”
Whether any of the canceled games can be rescheduled in the event of a quick settlement remains to be seen.
“We obviously want to reach an agreement as soon as possible and when we do, we will try to put together a schedule that will maximize the number of regular season games we can play, subject to reasonable logistical and scheduling parameters we will have to discuss with the players,” Daly told the AP in an email. “Having said that, once clubs begin releasing dates and rebooking their buildings, as they will be free to do for the month of November, the process will obviously get more difficult and complicated.”
A quick decision on the status of the New Year’s Day outdoor Winter Classic and the All-Star game later in January isn’t expected, Daly said.
Last week, the NHL offered a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues, which exceeded $3 billion last season, but that proposal was rejected by the union. The players responded with three counteroffers, all of which would ultimately get the sides to a 50-50 deal, but the league rejected them.
Efforts by the players’ association to resume negotiations this week were rebuffed by the NHL because the union declined to agree to start bargaining off the framework of the league’s offer or issue another proposal using the league’s proposal as a starting point.
There is a major divide between the sides over how to deal with existing player contracts. The union wants to ensure that those are all paid in full without affecting future player contracts. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman expressed a willingness to discuss the “make whole” provisions on existing contracts, but only if the economic portions of the league’s offer are accepted first by the union.
“Last week the owners gave us what amounts to a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ proposal,” Fehr said. “We responded with the framework for three proposals on the players’ share, each of which moved significantly, toward their stated desire for a 50-50 split of HRR, with the only condition being that they honor contracts they have already signed. Honoring contracts signed between owners and players is a reasonable request. Unfortunately, after considering them for only 10 minutes they rejected all of our proposals.”
This lockout, the third of Bettman’s tenure as commissioner, began Sept. 16.