November 24, 2012

NHL: League cancels more games

By IRA PODELL AP Sports Writer

More than a third of the NHL regular season and two of its marquee events have now been called off.
The league announced its latest round of cancellations on Friday — Day 69 of its labor lockout. All games through Dec. 14 were wiped out, and this time All-Star Weekend, scheduled for Jan. 26-27 in Columbus, Ohio, was lost, too. The New Year’s Day outdoor Winter Classic already was scratched.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said losing the All-Star festivities is “extremely disappointing.”
“We feel badly for NHL fans and particularly those in Columbus, and we intend to work closely with the Blue Jackets organization to return the NHL All-Star events to Columbus and their fans as quickly as possible,” Daly said in a statement Friday.
The Blue Jackets said fans holding tickets to the game, the skills competition, and other events during that weekend could receive refunds.
Brian Jack, a 35-year-old IT director who grew up in Pittsburgh, moved to Columbus 17 years ago and converted from a Penguins fan to a Blue Jackets supporter after the expansion team hit the ice.
“We knew the All-Star Game, the longer it went, was probably going to be one of the first special events they cancelled,” said Jack, a season-ticket holder for all of the Blue Jackets’ 12 seasons.
“You knew it was coming, but I hoped that they would get together and fix it (labor problems) up. For season-ticket holders who have watched the Blue Jackets struggle for a number of years with the product on the ice, the All-Star game was supposed to be a bright spot. Now that’s gone.”
A lockout in the 1994-95 season shortened that campaign to 48 games. A similar scenario could play out this time if the sides can find some common ground. Or the whole season could be lost, as it was in 2004-05.
The new cancellations come as little surprise. Owners and players had an unproductive negotiating session on Wednesday that produced no movement to break an impasse over splitting more than $3 billion in revenue and also player contracts.
“All players felt that this week would lead to something,” Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “However as of today unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case. It’s very disappointing.”
Daly said he spoke to union officials on Friday, advising them about the cancellations, but at this point no face-to-face talks are scheduled. The possibility exists that Daly will speak to union special counsel Steve Fehr by telephone this weekend, but even that isn’t certain.
The sides had stayed apart for eight days before reconvening on Monday night and then again on Wednesday when the union presented a comprehensive proposal the NHL requested. Players’ association executive director Donald Fehr said Wednesday that the sides were closer financially than the NHL has claimed. The further cancellations Friday will cause significantly greater losses for the league.
“On Wednesday, the players presented a comprehensive proposal, once again moving in the owners’ direction in order to get the game back on the ice,” Donald Fehr said in a new statement. “The gap that remains on the core economic issues is $182 million. On Wednesday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that the league is losing $18-20 million per day during the lockout, therefore two more weeks of cancelled games far exceeds the current economic gap.
“It makes the NHL’s announcement of further game cancellations, including the 2013 All-Star Weekend, all the more unnecessary, and disappointing for all hockey fans — especially those in Columbus. The players remain ready to negotiate but we require a willing negotiating partner.”
The union made its offer that was based on a framework the NHL had given, which included a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue and a $393 million in deferred payments for the players, who earned 57 percent of revenues in the collective bargaining agreement that expired in September. The NHL offered only $211 million to the players in a proposed deal that took into account that a full 82-game schedule would be played this season.
Players previously had proposed they receive a guaranteed amount of income each year.
Management wants a seven-year deal, which the union says is too long because fewer than half the current players will be active by the last season.

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