Hockey fans who are tired of cancellation announcements may have to endure only one more. It appears all that’s left is to either cancel the entire NHL season or announce the puck will finally drop.
The NHL continued to chip away at its schedule Thursday, axing two more weeks. All games through Jan. 14 are gone, bringing the leaguewide total to 625 – 50.8 percent of the season.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said earlier this month he can’t envision teams playing less than 48 games, the number used for the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season. The league and the NHL Players Association reached a collective bargaining agreement Jan. 11, 1995, and games started Jan. 20.
It seems Jan. 15 is the target date this time.
“It’s fair to say you’re looking at the middle of January as the date by which this needs to be resolved and we need to be playing hockey,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told Team 1260 AM in Edmonton, Alberta.
The sides do not have negotiations scheduled, though things could change today. The NHLPA will conclude its vote on whether to allow the executive board to file a disclaimer of interest. If the players vote yes – which is all but certain – union leaders will be authorized to dissolve the NHLPA and step aside as the players’ bargaining representatives. That, in turn, would allow the players to file antitrust lawsuits in an attempt to end the lockout. The league filed a lawsuit last week to confirm the legality of the work stoppage and also filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.
“The fans are frustrated,” Buffalo Sabres forward Thomas Vanek acknowledged this week. “They always relate to the player and probably look at us as being greedy, but I think the people that know more just beyond that really understand what we’re going through. It’s not about our greed. It’s just about getting respected. Not even getting paid the right way, just let’s have a deal that’s fair for both sides. I believe we don’t have that right now.”
The Sabres officially lost seven more games Thursday, bringing the total to 42 of their original 82. They were scheduled to host Ottawa (Dec. 31), Florida (Jan. 3), Tampa Bay (Jan. 5) and Boston (Jan. 9), and they were supposed to visit the New York Rangers (Jan. 8), Ottawa (Jan. 11) and Chicago (Jan. 13).
The rest of the games will disappear unless the league and its players close significant gaps on key issues.
They have opposing views on contract term limits, yearly variance of salaries, the length of the collective bargaining agreement and how to transition to a 50-50 revenue split from a system that had players earning 57 percent.
The sides haven’t sat together since Dec. 6, though they met separately with federal mediators last week.
“In order for this process to move forward,” Daly told the Edmonton radio station, “I think there has to be a new idea or maybe a re-trade of some of the issues that were talked about a couple of weeks ago.”