NHL cancels first 2 weeks of regular season

The 2012-13 NHL season will not begin as scheduled. The league announced on Thursday that it has cancelled all games through Oct. 24 as the lockout continues.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has been at the helm for three lockouts in the last 18 years. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

Eight years after becoming the first North American sports league to have a season wiped out by a labour dispute, the NHL is missing meaningful games again.

The league announced Thursday that it had cancelled the first two weeks of the 2012-13 schedule — wiping out 82 games through Oct. 24.

The season had been scheduled to start Oct. 11 with four games.

Despite negotiating regularly throughout the summer, the NHL and NHL Players' Association have been unable to make any progress in collective bargaining talks. The lockout is into its 19th day and the sides currently don't have any negotiating sessions scheduled.

"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."

In a separate release, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said the league's move to cancel games only came about because of their willingness to lock the players out on Sept. 15.

"The decision to cancel the first two weeks of the NHL season is the unilateral choice of the NHL owners," he said. "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. 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."

Losses mounting

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly claimed earlier this week that the work stoppage has already cost the league almost $100 million US in lost revenue.

"That is not going to be recouped and that's going to cost both sides," Daly said after talks broke off Tuesday in New York. "That's unfortunate but it's a reality of where we are."

It's only going to get worse now.

The delayed start to the season will ensure players miss the first of 13 paycheques, which were scheduled to go out on Oct. 15. Owners are facing the prospect of empty buildings and missed gates.

Both sides are familiar with the situation as it is the NHL's third lockout in 18 years. A total of 468 games were lost in 1994-95, when the shortened season started on Jan. 20, while the entire year was wiped out during the last round of negotiations in 2004-05.

That was the first time the Stanley Cup wasn't awarded since 1919.

With the industry bracing for another long work stoppage, players have scattered around the globe. More than 100 have already found jobs in Europe — roughly 15 per cent of the union's total membership — and that number is expected to climb now that meaningful games are gone.

Doom and gloom has enveloped the talks in recent weeks, something that once seemed unimaginable after the league posted record revenues over the last seven seasons.

However, both sides insist that all is not lost. They have maintained a regular dialogue and kept the process from getting personal, and each will come under more pressure to find a solution as time goes on.

"It's going to require sitting there and staying with it — even if it's unpleasant, even if people aren't saying anything new right away, even if you'd rather be doing something else — until you find a way to do it," Fehr said. "They haven't been willing to do that a lot lately. Hopefully, that'll change."

with files from CBCSports.ca