Today, the NHL officially cancelled the entirety of the preseason, according to a report in USA Today. The formal cancellation was a foregone conclusion, but the move is symbolically devastating, as there appears to be no possibility of the NHL playing a full 82-game season.
The NHL and NHLPA will meet this weekend (New York Daily News) for the first time since each side rejected a proposal from the other three days before the lockout began.
With the official start of the regular season only two weeks away, it would appear that this weekend's negotiations are the last chance to come to an agreement without cancelling any portion of the 82-game season.
Common sense would dictate that even an agreement at this point would likely result in a rearranging of the schedule, as teams would not be expected to begin the season without time to prepare.
Nonetheless, the weekend meetings are an important deadline and milestone—the last chance for the NHL and NHLPA to end their stalemate before having a true economic impact on the game. For the players, missing regular-season games makes the loss of paychecks a reality. For the owners, the loss of revenue can be easily summed up by empty parking lots and vacant seats on opening night.
Both sides must also keep in mind the implication of allowing basketball season to start without hockey having its usual two-week advantage. The casual fans who are so likely to be the first to abandon the sport will not have much trouble filling their sports planners once baseball, football and basketball are all being played simultaneously.
The NBA season begins October 30th.
When will the 2012-13 NHL Season Begin?
Should the weekend meetings fail to produce a new CBA, many players will be faced with the reality that they will need to find other ways to earn paychecks and stay in game shape. CHL teams have already begun their seasons, and many NHL players have bolted for Europe where hockey is also underway already.
The AHL regular-season schedule begins on October 12th.
With today's announcement, the time of cancelling practices, contract negotiations and exhibition games has come and gone. Hockey is on the verge of losing games due to a lockout for the third time in 18 years.
It would serve the NHL and NHLPA well to keep that pathetic fact in mind when convening for this weekend's meetings.
Dan Kelley has been a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist since 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @dxkelley