With no progress in the central issues needed to reach a collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and its players, the league on Thursday canceled the first two weeks of its regular-season schedule.
Gone are the games scheduled Oct. 11-24. Five of the 82 cancellations affect the Wild, including three home games.
If there were still to be a quick resolution between the two sides, teams could play full 82-game seasons. But no talks have been scheduled and the first core-economic discussions between the two parties in nearly three weeks stalled after 90 minutes on Tuesday.
"It was an extremely disappointing but necessary decision," Bill Daly, NHL deputy commissioner, wrote in an e-mail to the Star Tribune. "There is simply not enough days left to open the regular season on time. We remain committed to continuing to work hard to try to figure something out that will result in the breakthrough we need to get this agreement done and behind us. ... For better or worse, we need a negotiating partner to make that happen."
On July 13, the NHL made the first of three proposals seeking to cut the player share of league revenue, which was 57 percent last season. In its third proposal last month, the league proposed a six-year CBA that would lower the player share to 47 percent the final four years of the deal.
The NHL says it won't make another proposal until the union, which made its first and only offer Aug. 14, counters. The union has refused, saying this isn't a game of "pingpong."
"The decision to cancel the first two weeks of the NHL season is the unilateral choice of the NHL owners," NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr said Thursday. "If the owners truly cared about the game and the fans, they would lift the lockout and allow the season to begin on time while negotiations continue.
"A lockout should be the last resort in bargaining, not the strategy of first resort."
The NHL became the first professional sports league to lose an entire season because of a labor dispute in 2004-05.
"People ask me every day what I think is going to happen, are we going to play this season, I have no clue," said Vancouver defenseman Keith Ballard, a former Gopher. "Obviously, it's going to take two sides. We've been willing to negotiate and talk, but they think a certain way, and unless they get it, they don't want to talk, I guess."
Wild season-ticket holders can leave their money in their accounts and accrue 10 percent APR interest for each day games remain canceled or postponed, or the team will cut refunds in the middle of each month for the value of games lost from the previous month, Matt Majka, chief operating officer, said Thursday,
On Oct. 15, players won't receive the first of 13 paychecks, although every player receives 8 percent of his 2011-12 salary in an escrow refund. More than 100 players have already left to play in Europe, including the Wild's Jared Spurgeon and perhaps soon Zach Parise, who has an offer to join Spurgeon in the Swiss League.
Others like Ballard, who skates four times a week in St. Louis Park and works out every morning with the Gophers hockey team at Mariucci Arena, plan to stay put for now.
"I guess we continue to do what we've been doing, which gets old ..." Ballard said. "We've given a couple good proposals, and as a union, our last proposal was pretty good. But just kind of reading through what Bill Daly and the league are saying, nothing is going to happen unless we change. So we'll see what happens, I guess. It doesn't sound overly encouraging."