NEW YORK (AP) – If there is going to be any NHL hockey played this season, it won’t happen before New Year’s Eve. The NHL has canceled all games through Dec. 30.
There had already been 422 regular-season games lost through Dec. 14 because of the ongoing lockout, and the latest cuts on Day 86 of the league shutdown claimed 104 more. The NHL also has canceled the New Year’s Day Winter Classic and the All-Star game.
The cancellation of just 16 more days of the season could perhaps signal there is hope of a deal to begin play in early January. Negotiations between the league and the players’ association broke off last week, but NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said on Sunday that the sides are trying to restart talks this week.
Daly wrote in an email to The Associated Press on Monday that nothing had been finalized regarding a meeting with the union.
Whenever the sides do get back together, they will be hard-pressed to work out a deal quickly on a new collective bargaining agreement to save the season. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said last week, after the most recent round of negotiations, that a season will have to consist of at least 48 games – the number played during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season – in order to protect the integrity of the campaign.
The 1995 lockout ended on Jan. 11. The season then began nine days later and lasted until May 3. That marked the only time the NHL regular season has stretched until May. Each team played 48 games, solely within its own conference, which is likely the model the league would follow this time if a settlement is reached soon.
Depending on who was asked last week, the message was either the sides were close to a deal or nowhere near one.
Players’ association executive director Donald Fehr said Thursday night, after three straight days of negotiations wrapped up, that he believed an agreement was close, only to change his position moments later when the NHL rejected the union’s most recent offer.
Bettman disagreed that a deal was near and then angrily announced that the league was rescinding every offer it had put on the table since the start of negotiations.
The NHL and the players are trying to avoid the loss of a full season for the second time in eight years. The 2004-05 lockout, that eventually produced a salary cap for the first time in league history, was the first labor dispute to force a totally canceled season in North American professional sports.
The season was called off on Feb. 16, and an agreement was reached on July 13. The lockout ended nine days later, after the deal was ratified by both sides, allowing for the following season to begin on time. That agreement reached then was in place until this year, and the current lockout began right after its expiration on Sept. 16.
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