NEW YORK — What seemed inevitable for the NHL has become reality. The league canceled the first two weeks of the regular season on Thursday, the second time games have been lost because of a lockout in seven years.
The announcement was made in a two-paragraph statement. It isn't clear if those games will be made up, allowing for a complete 82-game regular season, if a deal can be struck soon with the locked-out players.
Unable to work out how to split up $3 billion in hockey-related revenues with the players' association, the NHL wiped out 82 games from Oct. 11-24 — beginning with four next Thursday, which would have been the league's opening night.
"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."
The union countered Thursday by saying the NHL forced the lockout onto the players instead of letting the season go on as planned.
"The decision to cancel the first two weeks of the NHL season is the unilateral choice of the NHL owners," NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr said in a statement. "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," he added. "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."
Although there have been negotiations between the league and players in recent days — unlike a three-month break at the start of the 2004-05 lockout that forced the cancellation of the entire season — the two sides haven't gotten any closer to a deal on core economic issues.
"Obviously, (cancellations) might have been expected but it's also disappointing because we set out to negotiate," New York Rangers goalie Martin Biron said in a telephone interview. "We wanted to get a deal and wanted to avoid a work stoppage or any cancellations.
"We're still working hard to find a solution and find a way to get the core economic stuff figured out with the league and getting a deal that is fair for everybody and lasts."