NHL

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Empty talk and empty rinks lie in store

Just no telling when NHL lockout will end

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DIE-HARD hockey fans might need to invest in some classic NHL games on DVD.

It might be the only taste of hockey for months.

There's no telling when the NHL lockout will end, especially when neither the league nor the NHLPA has committed to face-to-face negotiations to end the labour unrest. There were no formal talks Sunday on the first day of the lockout, the league's fourth shutdown since 1992, including a year-long dispute that forced the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season when the league successfully held out for a salary cap.

And there are no formal talks planned.

The league issued a statement to fans on its website that it was "committed to negotiating around the clock to reach a new CBA that is fair to the players and to the 30 NHL teams."

The clock is ticking and there's no new collective bargaining agreement in sight. The league could start to announce this week the cancellation of preseason games and there's little chance training camps will open on time. The regular season is scheduled to begin Oct. 11, but that obviously is in peril.

Day 1 of the lockout could serve as a preview for the next several cold months: Empty rinks, empty talk.

"This is a time of year for all attention to be focused on the ice, not on a meeting room," the league said. "The league, the clubs and the players all have a stake in resolving our bargaining issues appropriately and getting the puck dropped as soon as possible. We owe it to each other, to the game and, most of all, to the fans."

Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, Chicago's Jonathan Toews and Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog were among the players participating in an NHLPA video to fans that was posted on YouTube. With black-and-white photos of each player as a backdrop, they talked about how much the game meant to them, and thanked fans for their support.

"We understand the people that suffer the most are the fans," Crosby said.

Some players won't wait for labour talks to pick up -- they've already packed up.

As of Sunday morning, all NHL players were free to speak to other leagues. Many will land in Russia's KHL, and two big names already signed. Pittsburgh centre Evgeni Malkin and Ottawa defenceman Sergei Gonchar agreed to deals with Metallurg. More will surely follow.

Malkin, a 26-year-old centre with the Penguins, is the NHL's reigning MVP. The 38-year-old Gonchar is a defenceman who helped lead the Senators to the playoffs last season.

Although the club provided no further details of their contracts, it said that they would comply with KHL regulations on signing NHL players during the lockout. Under these rules, KHL teams can sign a maximum of three NHL players above their limit of 25.

The KHL also sets the ceiling for the salaries of NHL players at a maximum of 65 per cent of what they earn under their NHL deals. Malkin has two years and $16.5 million remaining on his deal with Pittsburgh. Gonchar has one year and $5.5 million left with Ottawa.

Many of the players, 25 years and younger, could end up in the AHL, the NHL's primary minor league. No matter where they play, the players are prepared for a lengthy wait to return to the NHL.

The core issue is money -- how to split a $3.3 billion pot of revenue. The owners want to decrease the percentage of hockey-related revenue that goes to players, while the union wants a guarantee that players annually get at least the $1.8 billion in salaries paid out last season.

While the NHL lockout might not destroy the whole season -- like in 2004-05 -- a sizable chunk of games could be lost without any productive talks on tap.

"I'm sure we will remain in contact," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. "But there are no negotiations planned or scheduled at this point."

Teams have been preparing for the likelihood the season will not start on time.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 17, 2012 C2

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