The NHL goes dark once again

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 16, 2012 - 7:09 AM

All league operations have ceased with the second lockout in the past eight years.

Without a whisper, the National Hockey League has officially padlocked its doors.

The league went quietly into its second lockout in eight years Saturday night, passing through the 11 p.m. expiration of the collective bargaining agreement without a press conference or even a statement.

With no formal negotiating sessions since Wednesday and the NHL and the Players' Association still light years apart on core economics and other critical issues, training camps won't open next weekend and it looks grim that the 2012-13 season will begin as scheduled Oct. 11.

"It doesn't seem like it's something that you should have to go through twice in your career," Wild veteran Matt Cullen said of the work stoppage. "But it's a fact of life. It seemed like the last couple weeks there was not a lot going on, so it was almost a foregone conclusion that there was going to be a lockout.

"Now, let's try to make this as quick as we can."

Sunday morning, 30 arenas will be off limits to hundreds of players. Teams can no longer make contact with them or promote them, meaning television shows like the popular Wild documentary "Becoming Wild" will have to stop airing on Fox Sports North.

On Monday, Wild stakeholders will begin to learn details about what happens to their season tickets. Options will include refunds as games are canceled or keeping their money in their accounts in exchange for what one source said would be "better interest than you can get at any bank in the world."

The Wild has also called an all-staff meeting for Monday. Owner Craig Leipold will announce a transition plan, although team sources say no layoffs are imminent.

However, in a matter of days, the NHL will begin canceling preseason games, meaning revenue streams will begin to strain. The Wild's preseason opener is scheduled for Sept. 26, its regular-season opener Oct. 13.

Every game not played at Xcel Energy Center means a 500-plus-person staff of ushers, security personnel, concierges, concession workers and others won't get a paycheck. St. Paul restaurants and bars will be wounded.

"The people who make it all happen are affected sorely by a lockout," former Wild and NHL forward Todd Fedoruk said on his Twitter account. "Nothing good comes of it."

League wants players to take pay cuts

There's no telling how long this lockout will last. In 2004-05, the NHL, in its pursuit for a salary cap, became the first professional sports league to ever lose a season.

After doors shut in 2004, the NHL and NHLPA didn't talk again for three months.

"I don't get the same feel -- at all -- that we had from last time and I still believe it will get done sooner than later," Cullen said. "It just seems like there's no reason on either side to miss any games over it. Last time, there were some serious battle lines drawn over the salary cap.

"This time it seems like it could really be settled sitting down in a room. As we get closer to training camp and the season opener, hopefully that will be enough pressure on both sides to make something happen."

The NHL, having received 43 percent of $3.3 billion in revenue last season, wants to make that closer to 50-50. It wants players to immediately take pay cuts. The NHLPA has refused.

In an e-mail to the Star Tribune on Saturday afternoon, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said: "Neither side has altered its position on substance in the last 48 hours. We have left it that we will meet when one side or the other is prepared to make a new proposal."

Players won't lose their first paycheck until Oct. 15, although they will receive 8 percent of their 2011-12 salary that date as part of an escrow reimbursement. Commissioner Gary Bettman doesn't understand why players are willing to risk parts or all of their 2012-13 salary instead of cutting the best deal now.

"Even a brief lockout will cost more in terms of lost salary and wages than what we're proposing to do" under a new CBA, Bettman said Thursday.

'Not just about us right now'

"It's about the principle," explained Wild forward Zach Parise, who along with defenseman Ryan Suter was actually paid $10 million of his $12 million 2012-13 salary in an August signing bonus. "It's not just about us right now. It's about guys that will be playing when we retire, it's about setting the framework for them as well."

Cullen added that because the owners feel the last CBA didn't make many teams economically stable, the NHLPA wants to structure a new CBA to help those distressed teams "so every time it expires we don't have to sewer the fans and have a lockout.

"Like, this is dumb. And if we do it again the same exact way, we'll be in the same spot and it's just going to be a black mark on the game."

Starting Sunday, NHL players will have to rent their own ice to keep skating. Several Wild players and Minnesota-based NHLers such as Dustin Byfuglien, Paul Martin and Keith Ballard will skate in St. Louis Park in what Cullen joked would be a "glorified beer league -- without the beer."

But if the lockout extends, Parise and other Wild players have begun to investigate playing in Europe.

"I think these next couple weeks will be really important," Parise said. "Are we going to keep talking or is this going to end?

"We don't want to miss hockey. We want to keep playing, and we're willing to keep playing under the last agreement. They're the ones that aren't. We want things to be done fairly. And what they're asking for, that's not fair."

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