NHL, NHLPA fail to reach deal
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Posted: 6 minutes ago
The hammer finally came down on the 2004-05 NHL season Wednesday.
Despite a gap of just $6.5 million separating the the final offers of the NHL and the NHLPA, the two sides couldn't bridge that small gap in time to save the season, as league comissioner Gary Bettman made the announcement at a news conference in New York.
"When I stood before you in September, I said NHL teams would not play again until our economic problems had been solved," Bettman said. "As I stand before you today, it is my sad duty to announce that because that solution has not yet been attained, it no longer is practical to conduct even an abbreviated season. Accordingly, I have no choice but to announce the formal cancellation of play for 2004-05."
The NHL would became the first major professional league in North America to lose an entire season because of a labor dispute. The Stanley Cup has been awarded every year since 1919, when a flu epidemic canceled the finals.
The two sides in the labor dispute couldn't agree on a new collective bargaining agreement, with the main sticking point being the salary cap demand made by the NHL. On Tuesday, the NHLPA backed off its insistance that a cap not be part of the new deal. Negotiations throughout the day produced final cap figures of $42.5 million from the league and $49 million from the union.
Bettman had set a deadline of 11 a.m. ET on Wednesday for the NHLPA to accept the league's final offer, but that hour came and went without a deal being made. He had already scheduled a press conference for 1 p.m. ET to announce the cancellation of the season.
Bettman's threatened cancellation of the season shifted the pressure to the players, some of whom stated Tuesday they were surprised that the union accepted a salary cap this late in the game.
"We probably could've gotten this thing done in the summertime," Chicago forward Matthew Barnaby said. "I'm just a little disappointed that it went this far to play poker and to have someone call your bluff."
NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly met one-on-one with players' association senior director Ted Saskin in Niagara Falls, N.Y., on Monday and presented an offer that removed the owners' desired link between league revenues and player costs.
The union refused to agree to that kind of tie-in because it doesn't trust what the league claims as its revenue total. Once the NHL dropped that requirement, the players came off their refusal of a salary cap.
The NHL's proposal on Monday was for a hard cap at $40 million with a 50 percent tax penalty for teams that spend between $34 million and $40 million.
Bettman said the sides needed to start putting a deal on paper by last weekend if the NHL was going to hold a 28-game, intra-conference schedule and a full 16-team playoff.
Bettman said teams needed to have cost certainty to survive and the only way he could guarantee that was with a salary cap that linked league revenues to player costs. Now that position has changed for the first time since the NHL started gearing up for the lockout in 1998.
The league has said teams lost $273 million in 2002-03 and $224 million last season, and an economic study commissioned by the NHL found that players get 75 percent of league revenues. The union has challenged those figures.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.