With one week until Christmas, it’s “extremely unlikely” the NHL will be playing by New Year’s.
The league’s most recent game cancellations extend through Dec. 30, which left fans hope of seeing hockey on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. However, negotiations are non-existent and legal issues now cloud the process, so Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly figures traditions like the Buffalo Sabres’ “Tux and Pucks Night” are a long shot.
“Dec. 31 is always a very popular date for our clubs to play games,” Daly said Monday on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio. “We were hoping to have the ability to play hockey by Dec. 31. It’s obviously two weeks from today, which makes it extremely unlikely at this point.
“But those [cancellation] announcements are made with the hope that there’ll be some change in position and we’ll catch lightning in a bottle and get something done quickly. I’ll continue to hold out hope for the foreseeable future.”
Hope is as hard to find as a crowded practice rink. Only a handful of Sabres have been skating locally, with seven on the ice Monday in Northtown Center at Amherst.
“I think fans would like to see hockey be played, especially the best players in the world,” Sabres defenseman Jordan Leopold said. “Here we are parked on the sidelines again, the second time in seven, eight years, and it’s unfortunate.
“Eventually it will subside and there will be a resolution. Hopefully, soon.”
What’s more likely to happen first is an announcement by the NHL Players’ Association whether it will file a disclaimer of interest. Players are in the midst of voting whether to allow its executive board to file the disclaimer. If they vote yes and the board executes the option, players would no longer be part of the collective bargaining process and could sue the league for antitrust violations.
The NHL made a pre-emptive strike against the disclaimer Friday by filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. It also filed a class-action lawsuit to confirm the legality of the lockout.
“If and when the players’ association decides to notice that it no longer intends to be a labor organization, that will change the dynamic somewhat,” Daly said. “Unfortunately, I’m not sure it changes it for the better. I think it will clearly put the season in jeopardy, in my view, but that’s something we’ll have to deal with.”
Sabres players declined to comment on the disclaimer of interest vote, which continues until Thursday. Danny Cleary, union representative for the Detroit Red Wings, told reporters in Michigan that he expects it to pass “overwhelmingly.” From there, it will be up to NHLPA officials to decide whether to dissolve the union and clear the path to lawsuits.
None of the legal moves prohibit the sides from talking, but they haven’t chatted since Friday and have nothing scheduled. The sides met with mediators last week but haven’t negotiated together since Dec. 6, when the NHLPA’s counterproposal to the league’s offer was rejected.
“We seem to have this trend where we put a proposal out and there’s a couple weeks where everything goes real quiet, then there’s some commotion again,” Leopold said. “Hopefully, we get that commotion.”
Daly says the parties remain far apart.
“I had a conference call on Friday talking about some of the transition issues, if and when we were to reach an agreement,” he said on the radio program.
“The fact that the players’ association continues to believe that we should be operating with a $67 million cap that doesn’t go down as we move forward, with a cap on escrow for the players and ability to buy players out outside the system, those are significant dollar issues – very significant dollar issues.”
Joining Vanek and Leopold on the ice Monday were Ville Leino, Drew Stafford, Patrick Kaleta, Matt Ellis and Tyler Ennis, who has returned from playing in Switzerland. Ennis is slowed by a shoulder injury that limited him to just 10 games with Langnau of the Swiss League.