The labor war between the NHL and its players’ association continues to be a fight no one is winning. The league delivered the latest blow Friday, canceling all games scheduled for November.
The decision will cost owners and players hundreds of millions of dollars. It will leave First Niagara Center and the surrounding area virtually barren until December.
And there’s still no end in sight. No proposals are on the table, and no negotiations are scheduled.
“The National Hockey League deeply regrets having to take this action,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement. “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.”
It’s the third time the league has canceled regular-season games since the lockout began Sept. 16. After chopping two- and one-week segments in its previous cancellations, the NHL went bigger with a whole month getting the ax.
The cancellation means 11 more games for the Sabres have disappeared. They were scheduled to play five home games (Carolina on Nov. 3, Philadelphia on Nov. 16, Columbus on Nov. 21, Winnipeg on Nov. 27 and Vancouver on Nov. 29) and six road games (Philadelphia on Nov. 6, San Jose on Nov. 8, Phoenix on Nov. 10, Anaheim on Nov. 11, Philadelphia on Nov. 17 and the New York Islanders on Nov. 24) next month.
Combined with the previous cancellations, the Sabres have had 20 of their 82 games nixed.
“This is deeply disappointing for all hockey fans and everyone who makes their living from hockey, including the players,” Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players’ Association, said in a statement. “But it comes as no surprise.
“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.”
The players’ key issue in bargaining has been to retain their full salaries. The league’s most recent proposal would have cut the players’ share of revenue by 12.3 percent in the first year of the deal, a decline the union found unacceptable. But now a total of 326 games have been chopped, which equates to 26.5 percent of the season. That’s an even bigger loss than if the players had taken the deal, though it’s possible some games could be rescheduled if a deal is eventually struck.
The owners are tossing away truckloads of money, too. The Sabres have lost 11 home games. They’ll forego $10.8 million in ticket sales alone, based on their average ticket price of $53.
While the decision to cancel an entire month frees the league’s busier arenas to book other events, history shows the foot of Washington Street will be dark on the dates of canceled November games. So will much of the neighborhood.
“Instead of doing the right thing and coming together to resolve their differences, the NHL owners and players are stuck thinking only about their own pocketbooks,” State Sen. Tim Kennedy said. “The NHL lockout is putting small businesses, working families and fans in the penalty box. The lockout needs to end before more damage is done to our economy and community.”
Kennedy joined Buffalo business owners and managers near the arena to draw attention to the hardships small businesses are experiencing because of the lockout. The ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business sent a letter to Empire State Development Corp. asking it to partner with energy companies to offer a utility grant to local businesses and give out interest-free loans so shop owners can pay short-term debt obligations.
“While the players and the owners are fighting, downtown Buffalo is losing,” developer and restaurateur Mark Croce said.
While presenting its last proposal, the NHL said it would require seven days of training camp before a season could start. For games to begin Dec. 1, a collective bargaining agreement will need to be reached by Nov. 23.
“We acknowledge and accept that there is joint responsibility in collective bargaining,” Daly said, “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.”