NEW YORK (AP) — It will be December before the NHL returns to the ice, and that is a best-case scenario.
With no deal in place, and no plans to resume negotiations with the players' association, the NHL on Friday canceled its entire slate of games through the end of November.
Once a league deadline to reach a deal that would allow for a full regular season passed on Thursday, cuts to the schedule were inevitable. The NHL wasted little time in wiping out over a quarter of its games.
In all, 326 regular-season games from Oct. 11 through Nov. 30 were lost — amounting to 26.5 percent of the schedule.
"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.
"We acknowledge and accept that there is joint responsibility in collective bargaining 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."
The union attempted to get the league back to the bargaining table this week, but was rebuffed when it asked that talks take place without preconditions. The NHL would only agree to meet again if the players' association used the league's previous proposal as a framework or offered a new one.
"The league officially informed us today that they have withdrawn their latest proposal and have cancelled another slate of regular-season games," union executive director Donald Fehr said in a statement. "This is deeply disappointing for all hockey fans and everyone who makes their living from hockey, including the players. But it comes as no surprise."
Fehr met with players on Friday night before they played in a charity game in Rosemont, Ill.
"The only thing I'll say about the conversation is, and we repeatedly get asked, 'What is there in the NHL offer that moved in our direction?'" Fehr said. "My problem is all I can do is shrug my shoulders, because I don't know what it is.
"Nothing they've done over the several past weeks has been very much of a surprise. One thing sort of follows another. It looks like that's what's been done in the other disputes in the other sports. It's a shame. Hopefully we'll finally get down to serious negotiations one of these days."
The dispute is all too similar to the 2004-05 lockout that led to the cancellation of that entire hockey season — the first time a North American professional sports league lost a complete campaign to a labor dispute.
Reaching a new deal potentially became even tougher Friday, because of the NHL's removal of its offer — one that included a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues and one Commissioner Gary Bettman called the league's best.
Whether any of the canceled games can be rescheduled in the event of a quick settlement remains to be seen. Daly told the AP in an email that if a deal is reached, the league will try to play as many games as possible.
"Having said that, once clubs begin releasing dates and rebooking their buildings, as they will be free to do for the month of November, the process will obviously get more difficult and complicated," he wrote.
The league had previously canceled games through Nov. 1 in two earlier rounds of cuts. A quick decision on the status of the New Year's Day outdoor Winter Classic and the All-Star game later in January isn't expected, Daly said.
"They're going to keep exercising the power that they have to be able to lock us out, and the thought that they can cancel games to try to sway us their way," Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "We'll see what happens in the next little while and see where it goes from there."
Last week, the NHL offered a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues, which exceeded $3 billion last season, but that proposal was rejected by the union. The players responded with three counteroffers, all of which would get the sides to a 50-50 deal, but the league quickly turned them down.
The NHL proposal was contingent on the league playing a full 82-game season, beginning on Nov. 2, which now won't happen.
"To be honest with you, more than anything it seems like it's more of a scare tactic to us," Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said. "The only reason why is they can cancel those games. I don't think it really means too much."
Players earned 57 percent of revenue in the recently expired contract, in which a salary cap was included for the first time. Owners originally sought to bring that number below 50 percent this time around before the most recent offer of 50-50.
Fehr said he spoke to the NHL on Friday and that the sides have conversations regularly, even though they haven't scheduled another time to meet.
"I believe it doesn't matter how much we try to reason with them or negotiate," Toews said. "I saw it in the meeting room last week, where we worked there. Don and everyone worked very hard in coming up with those three different proposals and they didn't even have the courtesy to look at it for more than five minutes or even to discuss it. There was no discussion.
"As has been proven over time, they're just on a timeline, and they're waiting to see how much they can squeeze us for. I don't know what's going to happen in the next week or so, but as players we've stood up. We've stayed together this whole time and we've worked very hard at trying to negotiate. That's as much as we can do at this point."
There is a major divide between the sides over how to deal with existing player contracts. The union wants to ensure that those are all paid in full without affecting future contracts between teams and players.
Bettman expressed a willingness to discuss the "make whole" provisions on existing contracts, but only if the economic portions of the league's offer are accepted first by the union.
"Last week the owners gave us what amounts to a 'take-it-or-leave-it' proposal," Fehr said. "We responded with the framework for three proposals on the players' share, each of which moved significantly, toward their stated desire for a 50-50 split of HRR, with the only condition being that they honor contracts they have already signed. Honoring contracts signed between owners and players is a reasonable request. Unfortunately, after considering them for only 10 minutes they rejected all of our proposals."
This lockout, the third of Bettman's tenure as commissioner, began Sept. 16.
"We have repeatedly advised the owners that the players are prepared to sit down and negotiate on any day, with no preconditions. The owners refused," Fehr said. "They apparently are only interested in meeting if we first agree to everything in their last offer, except for perhaps a few minor tweaks and discussion of their 'make whole' provision.
"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."