NHL lockout claims another 104 matches through December 30
Another 104 matches canned, but hopes rise that deal with players may see January start to play
The National Hockey League eliminated 16 more days from the regular-season schedule, and if a deal with the players' association is not reached soon, the whole season could be lost.
The league wiped out all games up until December 30 in its latest round of cancellations.
Already, 422 regular-season games had been called off until December 14 because of the lockout, and the latest cuts on day 86 of the NHL shutdown claimed 104 more. The New Year's Day Winter Classic and the All-Star game were cancelled earlier.
In all, the 526 lost games account for nearly 43 per cent of the regular season that was scheduled to begin on October 11.
The cancellation of just two more weeks of the season, however, could perhaps signal hope of a deal that would allow play to begin in early January.
Negotiations between the league and the players' association broke off last week, but NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said on Sunday that the sides were trying to restart talks this week.
Daly said nothing had been completed regarding a meeting with the union.
Whenever the sides do get back together, they will need to work quickly on a new collective bargaining agreement.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said last week after the most recent round of negotiations that a season must consist of at least 48 games to protect its integrity. That is the same number of games played during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season.
The 1995 lockout ended on January 11. The season then began nine days later and lasted until May 3.
That marked the only time the NHL season stretched until May. Each team played 48 games, solely within its own conference, which is the likely model that the league would follow this time if a settlement is reached soon.
"When it gets to the point where we can't play a season with integrity, with a representative schedule, then we'll be done," Bettman said last Thursday. "If you go back in history, in 1994-95 I think we played 48 games. I can't imagine wanting to play fewer than that."
Depending on who was asked last week, the message was either that the sides were close to a deal or nowhere near one.
Players' association executive director Donald Fehr said on Thursday night after three straight days of negotiations that he believed an agreement was close, only to change his position moments later when the NHL rejected the union's most recent offer. Bettman disagreed a deal was near and then angrily announced that the league was rescinding every offer it had put on the table during the negotiations.
"I would say it was expected," New York Rangers goalie Martin Biron, the team's union representative, said about the lost games. "We continue to stand behind Don 100 per cent, and the work our negotiating committee is doing and working hard to get a deal done."