Any hope for a full 82-game regular season is quickly evaporating for the NHL.
That’s a certainty. But what the league and its players can’t agree on is when exactly they’ll reach that point.
Or, for that matter, when they should meet again in an attempt to get negotiations back on track.
Such is the fractured state of the relationship between the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association that even when commissioner Gary Bettman says a full season cannot be played without starting games by Nov. 2, the players argue they have another two weeks beyond that to save a 1,230-game slate.
Bettman had previously set a deadline of Thursday to come to an agreement to preserve a full schedule.
“You can play an abbreviated season, but I would rather play a full season,” Bettman said at a press conference Wednesday to announce the New York Islanders’ move to the borough of Brooklyn. “I am sure our fans would rather we play a full season. That’s why we made the offer we did. … Unfortunately, it looks like an 82-game season is not going to be a reality.”
Additional cancellation of games could come as soon as Friday.
While the two sides didn’t speak Wednesday, the farcical war of words over why exactly they weren’t meeting continued.
Bettman’s explanation was the league is prepared only to discuss its latest offer or hear a new one from the NHLPA, while the union argued it wanted to simply keep a dialogue going.
“We said to them that we are prepared to meet if you want to discuss our offer or you want to make a new offer,” Bettman said. “They have no inclination in doing either, and so there really was no point in meeting at this point.”
NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr countered with: “The league is apparently unwilling to meet. That is unfortunate, as it is hard to make progress without talking.”
To this point, the NHL has merely been cancelling games which could later be rescheduled back in. But if the league does not start play in the near future, it would be difficult for each team to play 82 games before the end of April – regarded as the last possible date for regular-season games, in order to get the playoffs into a two-month stretch before the end of June.
Along with more cancelled games, signature league events like the all-star game and Winter Classic are now in jeopardy, with the all-star weekend in Columbus, in particular, now highly unlikely to take place.
The Winter Classic, scheduled for Jan. 1 between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings in Ann Arbour, Mich., requires so much preparation in the lead up Bettman said a final decision would likely have to be made on the game some time in November.