Crunch time has come for the National Hockey League.
The NHL announced Thursday that it had canceled its regular-season schedule from Oct. 11 through Oct. 24. A total of 82 regular-season games were scheduled.
The league said that the cancellation was necessary because of an absence of a Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and the NHL Players Association. The old CBA expired Sept. 15, and the players were locked out.
The NHL already had canceled all scheduled preseason games. A cancellation of regular-season games was expected when meetings between the league and union last weekend were generally unproductive.
The NHL openers were to be played Oct. 11. The Carolina Hurricanes' season opener was set Oct. 13 in Winnipeg.
"Everyone is missing out," Canes captain Eric Staal said Wednesday. "You hope here in the next very short time they get down to it and get serious and get it done."
In 2004, continued haggling over a CBA resulted in the cancellation of the 2004-2005 season. Staal and others still have hope that will not happen again.
"It's starts to get real," Staal said of canceling regular-season games. "There's real money lost for players and more money lost for owners. It's too bad because of where the game has been going and how it's grown.
"You'd like to think these people are smart enough to figure out how to get a deal structured properly for both sides to be OK with it. We're not at that point yet, and it's hopefully sooner than later."
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly indicated Thursday that the cancellation of a portion of the schedule may not preclude making up the games canceled, saying if a CBA was soon approved the NHL might be able to "reconfigure" the schedule.
The Hurricanes were to open the season with six straight road games to avoid conflicts with the N.C. State Fair. Carolina's home opener was set for Oct. 26 against the New York Rangers.
The NHL and NHLPA have been at odds over such contentious issues as how to divide the annual hockey-related revenue. The players received 57 percent in the old CBA and the league has proposed a significant reduction in the players' percentage.
The decision to cancel the first two weeks of the NHL season is the unilateral choice of the NHL owners," NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said Thursday in a statement. "If the owners truly cared about the game and the fans, they would lift the lockout and allow the season to begin on time while negotiations continue. A lockout should be the last resort in bargaining, not the strategy of first resort.
"For nearly 20 years, the owners have elected to lock-out the players in an effort to secure massive concessions. Nevertheless, the players remain committed to playing hockey while the parties work to reach a deal that is fair for both sides. We hope we will soon have a willing negotiating partner.
By Chip Alexander