Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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November schedule canceled; Winter Classic close

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: October 26, 2012 - 1:22 PM

UPDATED

There will be no 82-game season in the NHL.

A week ago, there was short-lived optimism that the NHL and NHLPA were making significant headway toward a collective bargaining agreement.

Today? Reality that this lockout is not close to ending and that the season continues to be in jeopardy.

The NHL has canceled the entire November schedule. That's 191 more games and 326 total, or 26.5% of the NHL schedule for 2012-13. That's 14 more Wild games and 23 in all. Here is Bill Daly's statement:

"The National Hockey League deeply regrets having to take this action. By presenting a proposal to the NHLPA that contemplated a fair division of revenues and was responsive to Player concerns regarding the value of their contracts, we had hoped to be able to forge a long-term Collective Bargaining Agreement that would have preserved an 82-game Regular Season for our fans. Unfortunately, that did not occur.

"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."

In a statement just released by Donald Fehr:

“The league officially informed us today that they have withdrawn their latest proposal and have cancelled another slate of regular season games. This is deeply disappointing for all hockey fans and everyone who makes their living from hockey, including the players. But it comes as no surprise.

Last week the owners gave us what amounts to a "take-it-or-leave-it" proposal. We responded with the framework for three proposals on the players’ share, each of which moved significantly, towards their stated desire for a 50-50 split of HRR, with the only condition being that they honour contracts they have already signed. Honouring contracts signed between owners and players is a reasonable request. Unfortunately, after considering them for only 10 minutes they rejected all of our proposals.

Since then, we have repeatedly advised the owners that the players are prepared to sit down and negotiate on any day, with no pre-conditions. The owners refused. They apparently are only interested in meeting if we first agree to everything in their last offer, except for perhaps a few minor tweaks and discussion of their “make whole” provision.

The message from the owners seems to be: if you don't give us exactly what we want, there is no point in talking. 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.”
 

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By early next week, I'm told the Winter Classic will have to be canceled, as well.

Why so soon? Many reasons.

Beginning next week, there are millions of nonrefundable dollars that must be committed to various entities, including the $3 million needed to rent the 110,000-seat University of Michigan Stadium beginning Dec. 1.

Unlike previous Winter Classics, this is a gigantic behemoth where the league must sell out three games in two cities -- two alumni games and the biggest hockey game ever played in the history of the world.

This one can't be done right without proper advance time. Also, there's the Great Lakes tournament and junior games -- a bunch of people that need to know now whether or not they need to reschedule games indoors. There's the Hockeytown Winter Festival at Comerica Park.

There are fans who shouldn't have to purchase last-second airfares to the Detroit area. So again, there needs to be ramped-up time. This is not something that can be scrapped a day or two before the event.

Not only will this put a severe dent in revenue in the NHL, this will be a $75-80 million hit to Detroit and Ann Arbor.

I've heard from several players that the real deadline, the real league pressure point is when the Winter Classic is in play. Well, it's at that point, folks. It's not going to be canceled in early December, in mid December. It's going to be canceled early next week.

--As for a quick recap as to the latest negotiating developments:

Last Tuesday, the NHL issued a proposal that brought revenues to an immediate 50-50 split with a "make whole" proposition that would pay players back the 12.3 percent reduction over the length of their remaining contracts (with that amount being charged to the player share in future years). There were also other contractual changes -- lowering entry-level deals to two years, moving free-agent status from seven years of service or 27 years old to eight or 28, max contract lengths of five years, no contract may have a year to year variability of greater than 5 percent and all money paid under NHL contracts to players playing in the minors or in Europe counts against the team cap (except for the first $105,000 per player).

The NHLPA rejected those proposals and responded two days later with three proposals (two on one sheet of paper each, one described off the cuff with Donald Fehr admitting he didn't run the numbers yet) addressing just the revenue breakdowns that brought the split gradually down to 50-50 (for specifics on those breakdowns, see Oct. 22 blog that starts with the headline, "Granlund soaring"). The union wouldn't discuss any of the contractual issues.

The league, which included Wild owner Craig Leipold, quickly walked out of the room.

Earlier this week, the NHLPA sent word to the NHL that they would be willing to meet again with no preconditions. The NHL chose not to meet with them, with Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly emailing the Star Tribune: "The Union has rejected the proposal we tabled last Tuesday and has indicated no intention to come forward with a new proposal. In light of their position, we don't see that anything will be gained by meeting this week. Looks like we'll have to regroup and go back to the drawing board. Extremely unfortunate, but even more unfortunately, very predictable."

So here we are.

The biggest question: What's the end-game here? Owners aren't allowed to speak, so I can't ask em. As for the players, there's not one player that has been able to answer this question for me. But it's a question they better start asking their union boss. They're fighting over a reduction of $1.6 billion over six years. Well, these players are going to lose more than that by not playing THIS YEAR alone, and as was proven during the last lockout, players always make out better in the long run. There's a reason many players have seen their salaries skyrocket, have seen the average NHL salary rise by a $1 million in the last eight years.

So does any of this make any sense?

Where does this end?

If Donald Fehr is not willing to go immediately to a 50-50 split in a $3.3 billion business, he's not going to do so when revenues take a gigantic hit. And considering both the union and the league are basing proposals on revenue growth, those proposals are both going to have to come off the table as revenues plummet.

We're officially at the ugly stage with no end in sight. If Fehr goes after the cap, which does appear to be his intention, we're all going to be in for a long, painful hiatus.

More when the league makes its announcement early this afternoon.

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