NHL cancels games through Nov. 1

calexander@newsobserver.comOctober 20, 2012 

On Wednesday, Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Jay Harrison said he was cautiously optimistic a collective bargaining agreement soon could be struck, ending the NHL lockout and jump-starting the hockey season.

And two days later?

"It’s a little discouraging, to say the least," Harrison said Friday.

Harrison wasn’t talking about another cancellation of regular-season games. The NHL, as expected, announced Friday that all games through Nov. 1 had been canceled in the absence of a CBA.

Harrison was referring to the labor meeting Thursday in Toronto, when the NHL rejected three CBA proposals made by the NHL Players Association.

The NHL on Tuesday made a proposal that would split hockey-related revenue 50-50 and would "make whole" contracts, with no rollback in salaries. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the offer was contingent on starting the season Nov. 2 and playing a full 82-game schedule.

It was the NHLPA’s turn Thursday. The union’s first two offers called for a gradual reduction to a 50-50 division of hockey-related revenue (HRR) during a five-year CBA. The third was for an immediate 50-50 split provided the owners fully honored all existing contracts.

Kevin Westgarth, a forward with the Los Angeles Kings who lives in Raleigh in the offseason, was one of 18 players at Thursday’s meeting. He said after the union’s offers were made, Bettman and his group asked for time to talk privately, leading the players -- including the Canes’ Eric Staal -- to believe some progress finally was being made in the negotiations.

Not for long, though.

"Somebody actually timed it -- it was six minutes," Westgarth said Friday. "Six minutes for them to hash out three proposals. They then called us back in and rejected them.

"They like to say we’re not talking the same language. Our third proposal is literally in their language. It’s a make-whole provision, except they pay for the contracts, which they signed. So they honor the contracts, we go to 50 percent and we play hockey."

Westgarth smiled, adding, "It seems pretty simple to me but I’m just a silly hockey player."

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly all but called the third proposal silly in a statement Thursday night. Daly said the offer called for paying for the contracts with $650 million outside the players’ share of HRR, and said the division would never be 50-50 in the five years of the proposed CBA.

The players received 57 percent of HRR in the CBA that expired Sept. 15 -- about $1.88 billion last year.

Westgarth, the son-in-law of former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, said his opinion -- shared by many players -- was that the NHL was following "the script of what the NBA and NFL did" last year. Both went through lockouts as the two leagues haggled over new CBAs, both finally settling on something close to a 50-50 revenue split.

"It’s not surprising to see the tactics used again and (Bettman) has done this for years -- try to force pressure with the lockout, which is unnecessary, and then basically try to sweat us for as much as they can," Westgarth said. "It was a good P.R. move and we all saw they have great P.R. people."

Westgarth was referring to a story on Deadspin.com this week that reported the NHL had hired Republican strategist Frank Luntz to help shape the league’s P.R. message.

"They’re using great people but there’s not a lot of substance behind the style," Westgarth said.

The NHL regular season was to have begun Oct. 11, but the NHL canceled the first two weeks of the season on Oct. 4 -- 82 games in all. Friday’s cancellation added another 53 games.

Harrison and other teammates skated Friday at Raleigh Center Ice, and were joined by Westgarth. They still believe there’s a slight chance to get in the full season -- something all hockey fans want.

"Believe us, we’re as disappointed as the fans are," Harrison said. "The fans have not been forgotten. We know the frustration is mounting and spilling over.

"We ask for patience as we work through the business process. Ultimately, we’re looking out for our livelihood and making sure the future is protected, as the guys did before us."

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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