NEW YORK — The NHL said there will be no bargaining with the players' union Saturday, leaving nothing to stop a lockout.
This will be the league's fourth work stoppage since 1992, and this latest action adds to a landscape of labor unrest across American professional sports. The lockout will be the third to hit a major sports league in 18 months, following ones in the NFL and the NBA.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press in an email that the sides have spoken by telephone, but there was "no formal bargaining" before the midnight deadline. He had conferred with players' association special counsel Steve Fehr, the brother of NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, to see if there would be face-to-face talks.
This was the third straight day the sides spoke by phone but avoided the negotiating table.
It now appears unlikely that training camps will open next week. The regular season had been scheduled to begin Oct. 11, but that is also in peril.
"There's a lot of stuff that still needs to be sorted out. Hopefully things will heat up in the next couple of weeks," said forward Milan Lucic, who agreed to a three-year extension with the Boston Bruins on Saturday that will pay him an average of $6 million annually. "All you can do is stay optimistic and stay positive and hope that a deal will get done."
While this lockout might not wipe out the whole season as the one in 2004-05 did, a good chunk of games could be lost without productive talks soon.
In jeopardy are a couple of key items on the calendar: the New Year's Day outdoor Winter Classic at 115,000-seat Michigan Stadium between the host Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs; and, the Jan. 27 All-Star game hosted by the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the league's struggling small-market teams.
Commissioner Gary Bettman has insisted that hockey management is determined to come away with economic gains, even if it forces another work stoppage. Damage is certain to occur almost immediately, and there is no telling how jilted fans and sponsors will react to another shutdown.
Players are concerned management hasn't addressed the league's financial problems by re-examining the teams' revenue-sharing formula. Having made several big concessions to reach a deal in 2005, the union doesn't think it should have to make more this time after record financial growth.