NHL cancels games through Nov. 30

The Winter Classic and All-Star game could be next in line if the NHL and players' association do not soon reach a labor agreement.

Helene Elliott

6:55 PM PDT, October 26, 2012


The NHL put the "no" in November and continued its determined march toward irrelevance by canceling games through Nov. 30, an announcement that was expected following the silent expiration of its Thursday deadline for a labor agreement with the players' association that would have preserved a full schedule.

A two-paragraph statement laid out the bare facts Friday: 326 games canceled by the lockout, 26.5% of the schedule. It could not possibly quantify the harm done to the loyalty of its famously passionate fans or the well-being of league, team and arena employees who are losing work and paychecks.

A league source estimated the NHL has lost $720 million in revenue, a figure soon to climb. Next on the chopping block, probably as soon as next week, is the showcase Winter Classic outdoor game, which is scheduled for Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium and requires extensive financial and logistical commitments by the NHL. The domino poised to fall after that is the All-Star game, scheduled for Jan. 27 at Columbus.

The league and the NHLPA professed disappointment over Friday's announcement, but it rang hollow to lockout-numbed ears.

"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," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said.

"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, we remain committed to achieving an agreement that is fair for the players and the clubs — one that will be good for the game and our fans."

Yup, it's so committed to a resolution that when the union last week offered to meet to discuss the league's Oct. 16 proposal without stipulations, Daly refused on the grounds that "there is nothing to meet about."

And this all is for what?

This isn't a philosophical debate, like the 1994-95 lockout that cut the schedule to 48 games. There's no call for an economic overhaul, as the league said it needed when it canceled the 2004-05 season. Despite getting a salary cap and controls, the NHL couldn't restrain owners' excesses or uncanny ability to shred the new safeguards. That triggered another go-round in the destructive cycle of argue, lock players out, kiss and make up. Only this time, the making up won't be easy.

The gulf between the NHL and the NHLPA isn't huge. They've agreed to split hockey-related revenues 50-50 but can't agree how to get there. The NHL wants an immediate drop from last season's 57%. Players want it phased in. They don't trust the NHL's "make whole" plan to eventually return what they'd pay in escrow to get to 50%, and with good reason: deferred payments would count against future earnings and they'd lose at both ends.

There is a deal to be made here but no one to complete it. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is a dictator, not a deal-maker. He has increased his power so he needs support from only eight owners to cement his negotiating decisions. The small-market owners who need financial help line up obediently behind him.

Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHLPA, said the union's only condition in its three responses to the NHL's proposal was that the league honor existing contracts.

"Unfortunately, after considering them for only 10 minutes they rejected all of our proposals," Fehr said. "The message from the owners seems to be: if you don't give us exactly what we want, there is no point in talking.

"They have shown they are very good at delivering deadlines and demands, but we need a willing partner to negotiate. We hope they return to the table in order to get the players back on the ice soon."

As many fans have suggested, everything Fehr and Daly say sounds just like the "waaah-waah-waah" noise that Charlie Brown heard when adults talked in all those wonderful animated TV specials. Means just as much too.

So the Kings can't hang their Stanley Cup banner, veterans like Teemu Selanne of the Ducks and Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils are robbed of a farewell season and young stars lose part of the prime of their careers. Whatever Bettman wins for owners, the cost in disillusionment and lost fans is already too high.

Twitter: @helenenothelen