Hockey is on indefinite hiatus. Again.
The partnership between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association expired without a fight at midnight. The sides failed to even negotiate during the final three days of the collective bargaining agreement, putting the game on ice until a new CBA is reached.
The owners have locked the doors on the players for the second time in eight years, and it doesn't appear they will reopen them anytime soon.
"We spoke [Saturday] and determined that there was no point in convening a formal bargaining session in light of the fact that neither side is in a position to move off of its last proposal," Bill Daly, deputy commissioner of the NHL, said in New York. "I'm sure we will keep in touch in the coming days and schedule meetings to the extent they might be useful or appropriate. We are sorry for where we are. Not what we hoped or expected."
The last proposals to avoid a shutdown came Wednesday. The NHLPA made its offer, and the NHL followed with one of its own. The sides have done nothing of consequence since.
"We suggested that the parties meet in advance of the owners' self-imposed deadline of midnight," Steve Fehr, the NHLPA's special counsel and brother of executive director Donald Fehr, said in a statement Saturday. "Don Fehr, myself and several players on the negotiating committee were in [New York] and prepared to meet. The NHL said that it saw no purpose in having a formal meeting.
"There have been and continue to be private, informal discussions between representatives of both sides."
The league and its players have yet to come close to a new deal. The amount the players would earn in the next CBA differs by nearly $1 billion in the latest proposals.
Negotiations will become even more difficult. Both sides said concessions they made during talks would be off the table if the lockout hit. It is here.
"Any negotiation going further, anything's off the table and anything could be put on the table," said Florida Panthers forward George Parros, who has helped represent the NHLPA during negotiations. "I don't think it translates to us being concerned about not getting a deal done later on, like two days later or whatever.
"Training camp is supposed to start in a week or so, and as far as we're concerned it could still start in a week if both sides find some middle ground before then. I don't consider Sunday morning to be anything out of the ordinary. I'm not going to wake up with a tear in my eye."
Indeed, nothing has been missed other than the CBA deadline. Training camps are scheduled to open Friday. The first preseason game is supposed to be next Sunday. The start of the 2012-13 regular season is set for Oct. 11.
However, all are in serious jeopardy unless Donald Fehr and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman can find a breakthrough for their constituents.
"We know the lengths that the owners and Gary are willing to go, so it is intimidating," said Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, referring to the 2004-05 lockout that cost the league an entire season. "All we have is our bond and how strongly we stick together and how strongly we feel about the agreement that we can work out."
The NHL insists that the financial system put in place following the previous lockout no longer works. Bettman says the deal gave too much money to the players, who earned 57 percent of hockey-related revenues last season.
While the commissioner argued the system was broken, his owners did their best to prove otherwise. In the month leading up to the lockout, owners handed out more than $435 million in contracts, according to CapGeek.com. That includes $199 million Friday and Saturday alone.
The Buffalo Sabres got into the proceedings, agreeing to a two-year, $5.625 million deal with restricted free agent Tyler Ennis.
"Long-term lucrative extensions being offered and agreed to down to the wire under a system that 'doesn't work.' I don't get it," MSG Networks radio analyst and former New York Rangers captain Dave Maloney wrote Saturday on Twitter. "And finally, they agree not to talk. Great."
Donald Fehr says the players are frustrated, too.
"You do not get to this level in this sport, and I'd think at this level in any sport, unless this is what you want to do almost as much as you want to breathe," the executive director said. "Of course they're frustrated. Of course they'd like this done. Of course they'd like to get back on the ice.
"The question is, and maybe you ought to factor this in, if they are willing to, there must be some pretty powerful reasons."
The reasons, of course, are dollars and cents.
The league brought in nearly $3.3 billion in revenues last year. The NHL wants to give the players no more than 49 percent of that cash. The NHLPA countered with an offer that would give its union members no less than 52 percent during the next CBA while assuming 7 percent yearly growth of revenues.
"Even a brief lockout will cost more in terms of lost salary and wages than what we're proposing to do," said Bettman, who also presided over a shortened season in 1994-95. "There's nobody that wants to make a deal and play hockey more than I do. This is what I do. This is what my life is about in terms of how I spend most of my waking hours. This is really hard.
"You only get involved in this situation when you understand what your issues are and you know you are doing the right thing for the long-term stability of our game."