The National Hockey League cancelled more games Friday, this time in a bigger chunk.
The NHL announced that all regular-season games through the end of November had been cancelled in the absence of a collective bargaining agreement. That’s 326 games total, or 26.5 percent of the 2012-2013 season.
“Obviously we’ve been expecting if they didn’t get the (CBA) deal done they would cancel some games,” Carolina Hurricanes forward Jussi Jokinen said Friday. “The question was two, three or four weeks.”
The players have been locked out since Sept. 15, when the previous CBA expired. The NHL regular season was to begin Oct. 11, but the league first cancelled all games from Oct. 11 through Oct. 24, then extended the cancellations through Nov. 1.
Friday’s announcement came at the end of a week in which the NHL Players Association requested to meet with the league, only to be rebuffed.
Last week, the league proposed a 50-50 split of annual hockey-related revenue, with a “make-whole provision” it said would honor existing player contracts through deferred payments. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the CBA had to be approved by Oct. 25 to preserve an entire season and complete the Stanley Cup playoffs by the end of June.
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, who called Oct. 25 an artificial deadline, said in addition to cancelling games, the league also pulled its CBA offer off the table.
“This is deeply disappointing for all hockey fans and everyone who makes their living from hockey, including the players,” Fehr said in a statement. “But it comes as no surprise. Last week the owners gave us what amounts to a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ proposal.”
The union countered with three proposals, each offering some form of 50-50 revenue split during the course of the CBA. All three proposals were rejected by the league.
With talks now at a standstill, many wonder what the next step will be.
“We’ve been trying to make that next step for the last week – that’s getting back together and talking through this,” said Kevin Westgarth, a Los Angeles Kings forward and member of the players’ negotiating committee. “At this point they want to say, ‘This is the best offer we can give you,’ which is basically ‘It’s our way or the highway.’
“That’s kind of where they left it at this point. We’ve been very consistent that we’re willing to talk about anything.”
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly issued a statement Friday saying the league “deeply regrets” making the cancellation.
“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,” Daly said.
Nothing was said about calling off the Jan. 1 Winter Classic game or the NHL All-Star Game, which is set to take place in Columbus, Ohio in late January. If no agreement is reached, some expect the league’s next move will be to cancel those two events.
It’s also expected more NHL players will look to move overseas to play. Jokinen said Friday he would explore his options in Europe.
For the Hurricanes, the most recent cancellation meant losing 15 games in November – seven at home. That’s 24 games in all.
Under their original schedule, the Canes would have played their home opener Friday night against the New York Rangers at PNC Arena. Instead of the team’s morning skate at the arena, defenseman Jay Harrison and a few teammates skated Friday morning at Raleigh Center Ice.
“What a shame,” Harrison said. “There’s a sense of missed opportunity. There’s no other way to describe it but a shame, that this is what it’s come to.”