Thursday's news does not guarantee that a full 82-game schedule will not be played, but for the NHL to play an entire season's worth of games, a lot of progress toward completing a new collective bargaining agreement has to be made in the immediate future.
Deputy Commish. Bill Daly on whether these games could come back."If we reach a deal, we will be looking to reconfigure schedule''...— Scott Burnside (@ESPN_Burnside) October 4, 2012
"...in a way that would maximize season consistent with health and safety concerns for the Players."— Scott Burnside (@ESPN_Burnside) October 4, 2012
What are the chances that the two sides come to an agreement in time to play any games this year? While it doesn't look promising right now, it would be surprising if the entire 2012-13 season is lost.
Neither side has submitted a formal proposal since Sept. 12, but there is no indication that the owners and players are unwilling to keep negotiating over the next few weeks. Here is the latest on the labor negotiations, according to Andy Strickland of 590 The Fan:
During the last lockout, achieving "cost certainty" was so important to the financial success of NHL teams that the owners didn't shy away from losing a season in order to fight for a system that would improve their bottom lines. The salary-cap system created in the previous CBA helped the owners achieve cost certainty.
Now that the league's revenues are through the roof and the new television deal with NBC Sports is helping the sport's popularity skyrocket along with impressive ratings, the owners have so much more to lose this time around by risking a whole season.
A lost season benefited the owners in 2005 by allowing them to settle upon the best possible CBA, but that isn't the case today. The financial consequences of canceling a full season would be much more severe this time around for the owners.
The strength of the NHLPA has also been bolstered by the leadership of executive director Donald Fehr, who did not come out of retirement for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to dominate him in these labor negotiations.
As a result of Fehr's experience, breaking the players' resolve will be a much harder challenge for the league during the current dispute compared to the last work stoppage, so the owners have no reason to prolong these negotiations in an attempt to make Fehr and the players cater to their demands.
Back in 2005, the league and the players didn't start making meaningful concessions until it was too late to negotiate a deal and save the season. I can't imagine that the two sides would want to put themselves in that kind of situation again.
Will we actually see a season?
The NHL is in a much better place right now than it was in October 2004, when the first batch of games for the 2004-05 season was canceled. With a few months to go until the 2012-13 season is in real danger, the players and owners will not put the sport in jeopardy.
It was unrealistic to think that a new CBA was going to be done by now and that the regular season was going to begin as originally scheduled. Thursday's news is disappointing, but there's no reason to be overly pessimistic about the chances that there will be any season at all.
It would be shocking to me if the league and its players let this process continue to the point where Bettman is forced to cancel another season sometime in late January or early February.
Fans still have enough reasons to believe that the 2012-13 NHL season will get underway at some point in the next few months.