With little movement in the labour talks between the NHL and the players’ union, the league announced Friday it is cancelling 96 more regular-season games through Dec. 14, and the annual all-star weekend in Columbus, Ohio.
"The reality of losing more regular-season games as well as the 2013 NHL All-Star Weekend in Columbus is extremely disappointing," said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly.
"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."
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, a source told The Canadian Press.
The decision comes two days after the NHL rejected the NHLPA’s latest and most comprehensive proposal on a new five-year collective bargaining agreement.
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 number of games wiped out due to the lockout now stands at 423, including the 2013 Winter Classic. The labour stalemate has currently cut 34.3 per cent of the season off the NHL schedule — games scheduled from Oct. 11 to Dec. 14.
On Oct. 26, the NHL cancelled games through Nov. 30, effectively wiping out 326 contests.
There was hope that a full 82-game season could be saved prior to that point.
Seven days later the league announced the cancellation of the Winter Classic, its signature regular-season event.
Columbus was set to host the all-star game for the first time on Jan. 27 at Nationwide Arena.
“First and foremost, the Blue Jackets are very disappointed for our fans that all-star festivities will not be coming to our great city in January,” said club president Mike Priest.
“Our commitment to bringing this event to our fans is as strong as ever. The NHL believes Columbus will be a great host and will work with us to bring the all-star celebration here as soon as possible.”
As part of Wednesday’s six-page offer, the players consented to a 50-50 split on hockey related revenues and $393 million US in deferred “make whole” payments.
The league’s offer two weeks ago contained a 50-50 arrangement, but $211 million in the owner-proposed provision — an aim for players to receive deferred payments to guarantee all current contracts are honoured in full.
There are also contracting issues to be addressed.
But Fehr maintains the owners' offer falls short of the make whole proposal. He also believes the players have done their part in trying to end the 69-day lockout, claiming the union's offer significantly reduces the financial gap during the five-year proposal.
“On Wednesday, the players presented a comprehensive proposal, once again moving in the owners’ direction in order to get the game back on the ice," Fehr said in a prepared statement on Friday.
While Bettman said he appreciated the steps the players took with their proposal on Wednesday, it wasn't enough for the owners, with some wanting their most recent offer taken off the table.
"The union has had our best economic proposal and that was in the context of playing an 82-game season," Bettman said Wednesday.
"That proposal was summarily rejected and any expectation that the offer is going to get better as time goes on is not realistic."
There are now rumblings that members of the NHLPA may decertify, which would put an end to the union.
The idea behind this move — one that was recently done while the NFL and NBA were going through their lockouts — is to challenge the NHL’s monopoly before labour boards and in the courts.
If the effort to decertify is granted, players could then become unrestricted free agents and would be free to challenge the lockout as an illegal collusion, and demand damages should existing contracts not be honoured.
However, Dan Oldfield — a former journalist and lead negotiator for the Canadian Media Guild — believes this would be a bad move on the part of the players.
“There are two fundamental problems with the approach,” Oldfield wrote in his CBCSports.ca blog. “First, the relationship between the players and the league also includes retired players, and some players not on NHL rosters.
"It involves pensions, player health care, insurance, and a variety of other mutual benefits. Not all of them could be dealt with on the basis of individual contracts. But the more practical problem is the time it would take to accomplish anything meaningful."With files from The Canadian Press