Saving the NHL season is quickly reaching a critical point.
The NHL lockout remains in a stalemate position, as the two sides have not met since Oct. 18. Because of that, the NHL canceled all of the games scheduled through the end of November.
That means 326 games have now been canceled. The season was scheduled to open Oct. 11, so 26.5 percent of the games on the NHL schedule have been lost.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman did not address the New Year's Day Winter Classic. That game is scheduled to be played between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs at mammoth Michigan Stadium. It appears that game, which has become one of the NHL's signature regular-season moments, is in jeopardy.
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr has said that his organization has made repeated attempts to negotiate with the league, but those efforts have been rebuffed.
The NHL came out with its so-called 50-50 proposal (source: NHL.com) Oct. 16, and the NHLPA came back with a series of three counteroffers Oct. 18. The NHL rejected those counteroffers, and the two sides have not met since (source: SportingNews.com).
The league had said that the 50-50 proposal was only on the table through Oct. 25, because an agreement was needed by then to start the season Nov. 2.
Since that did not happen, the offer was no longer being offered to the players.
Fehr was not surprised by the game cancellations or the offer being removed from consideration, but he said the players were disappointed with the decision.
He repeated his desire to have substantive talks with Bettman and his negotiating team, but those efforts have been rebuffed with each call that has been made.
"The message from the owners seems to be: if you don't give us exactly what we want, there is no point in talking," Fehr said in a statement that was published on NHL.com. "They have shown they are very good at delivering deadlines and demands, but we need a willing partner to negotiate. We hope they return to the table in order to get the players back on the ice soon."
The NHL said that it "deeply regrets" having to take the action of canceling the block of games. NHL vice president pointed to the Oct. 16 offer as being a "fair division of revenues" that the NHLPA chose not to accept as being the reason for the cancellations.
"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 in a statement on NHL.com.
If Daly's statement is to be taken at face value, it acknowledges that the league and NHLPA must collectively bargain to reach an agreement.
To this point, the NHL has not engaged in that process. It was unwilling to meet with the NHLPA and discuss its Oct. 18 counteroffer.
To have any chance at reaching an agreement, both sides must get in the same room and talk to each other.
There is still time to save the season, but with each passing week more of the season gets lost.
Unless negotiations begin in earnest and an agreement is reached quickly, more game cancellations will follow. The Winter Classic may be involved, and then the league may be more inclined to cancel the season after making that move.
Bettman canceled the 2004-05 season Feb. 16, 2005 (source: CBC.ca).
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