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Feb. 16, 2005

NHL season officially cancelled

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor
National Hockey League (NHL) Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters Wednesday Feb. 16 that the league was unable to reach an agreement with the players union, and the 2004-2005 season has been officially cancelled.

The press conference began with Bettman issuing a brief statement apologizing for the labor strife that will prevent the Stanley Cup from being awarded for the first time in 85 years.

"Everyone associated with the NHL owes the fans an apology, he said, adding, "we're truly sorry. We are 30 clubs united to reaching an economic system under which teams and players would work as partners.
"As I stand before you today, it is my sad duty to announce that it no longer is practical to conduct even an abbreviated season," Bettman said. "Accordingly, I have no choice but to announce the formal cancellation of play for 2004-05."
The two sides were unable to reach that system before the 1 p.m. deadline Bettman had set. He characterized arguably the darkest day in hockey history as "a sad, regrettable day that we wish could have been avoided.

Bettman also added that the league's final last-ditch offer of a $42.5 million salary cap without linkage to league revenues was off the table, and that it was only out there to begin with as a way to save this season.

"We're back to needing cost certainty, he said, but added that a 2004-2005 season was important to him. "I didn't want to risk losing this season if we could have reached a deal.

He went on to say that the league's final deal would have led to fiscal losses in the early stages of the CBA. "Projecting under a $42.5 million cap, we would lose money for the next two years.

The commissioner, who was at the helm 10 years ago when the two sides reached a collective bargaining agreement at the last moment before the 1994-95 season was scrapped, also added that the two sides were not as close as some had figured. The NHLPA's final offer was a $49 million salary cap.

"Their cap offer put all monetary risk on the clubs. We weren't as close as people were speculating. He said that the theoretical $6.5 million gap between the two sides was further than that if multiplied by all 30 teams. "When you count the changes in arbitration, $6.5. million times 30 is about a $200 million difference.

It also wasn't as easy as just meeting in the middle, Bettman explained. "You can say 'meet in the middle,' but what if the union started their offer at a $60 million cap? We went as far as we could go. At some point, if you stretch and rush a deal that doesn't achieve anything you needed to get done, then it defeats the point.

"A salary cap acts as a magnet, he stated, saying that a salary cap would encourage all teams to spend up to that limit. 27 NBA teams are over their cap and all 32 NFL teams were within a couple million dollars of the salary cap.

Bettman said he expected a full season next year, and from here on, that was the focus of the NHL. "What we do now is about the future of our league and it's 30 teams. The league will persevere and emerge stronger than ever. We will begin planning for a 2005-2006 season.

Since Bettman left the NBA front office to run the NHL in 1993, the league has ballooned from 21 to 30 teams, and the league has lost a total of $1.8 billion. According to an independent audit, the league lost $273 million in the 2002-2003 season.

As he took questions from reporters in New York and on the phone, Bettman said that the NHLPA's demands are unrealistic given the financial state of the league. "We don't have the money to pay the players that the union says we do. We as a league don't belong with franchises with payrolls of $45 million or more.

Factoring in the 24 percent rollback in salaries proposed by the NHLPA and accepted by the NHL, only Dallas, Philadelphia, would have been over a $42.5 million cap for a full 82-game season as their rosters currently stand.

As for when the two sides would head back to the bargaining table, Bettman was unsure. "We have to regroup first, he said. "I can't tell you when we'll get back together with them. Our fans hopefully will be patient with us.

The owners, who have saved up $500 million for this lockout, appear solid in their support of whatever plan Gary Bettman puts out now. "We're done as a league losing money. The industry needs restructuring. We have 30 teams with the wherewithal to stay in business. We will pay players what we can afford, not a penny less, not a penny more, Bettman said.

In response to a question by Nashville Predators beat writer John Glennon of the Tennessean, a market that has been pointed at for possible contraction, Bettman said that "all markets have, at one time or another, shown great support. No one should have concern about all the teams surviving.

As for the other side of the lockout, NHLPA chief Bob Goodenow spoke a little while after Bettman at a separate conference in Toronto. "We never had a real partner in negotiation, Goodenow said. "We made many offers that moved in the owners direction.

Offers that seem to have alienated numerous players. Many were surprised on December 9, 2004, when Goodenow offered a 24 percent rollback in all salaries, meaning, for example that a signed $100 million contract would immediately become a $76 million contract.

Prior to the cancellation of the season, both sides climbed multiple philosophical hurdles. The NHLPA said it would never accept a salary cap, but offered one at $52 million. Even though the league rejected the offer, it upset many players that it took so long for these barriers to be knocked down.

ESPN's Darren Pang reported that one anonymous player told him that the players got "sold down the river by the union. Chicago's Matthew Barnaby lamented to the Associated Press that "we probably could've gotten this thing done in the summertime. Am I mad? No, I want to get back to work. But at the same time, I'm just a little disappointed that it went this far to play poker and to have someone call your bluff."

Buffalo Sabres' union representative Jay McKee asked, "If that's where we were going, I wonder why now.

Bettman echoed those thoughts, saying during his press conference that "if the union had said, say, six weeks ago that they'd do a cap, we could have made an agreement.

A reporter asked what today would be remembered as, and Bettman summed it up with one word: tragedy.

"I think this is a tragedy. It's a tragedy for the fans, it's a tragedy for the players. Their careers are short, and this is money and opportunity they will never get back. I hope, for their side, that when it's all said and done, that it was worth it, because I don't see it working out that way.

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  • bean on February 17, 2005 at 10:17 AM
    i sorry (not)hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

    take that NHL hahah
  • Nick Falgout (View Email) on February 17, 2005 at 11:07 PM
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