NHL cancels first two weeks of season
Chris Kunitz, right, on the NHL lockout: "Preseason has come and gone. It builds every day it goes by and you miss games. Maybe you could theoretically crunch a schedule together. It's still going to be tough to do."
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Is this the pinch that could spur some progress in the NHL lockout? Or just another punch in the gut?
"It doesn't feel good for everybody," Penguins winger Chris Kunitz said after a workout Thursday morning at Southpointe, when it was clear the league was going to announce that the 2012-13 season would not start on time.
That word came later in the day. The NHL canceled the first two weeks of its regular season, 82 games combined through Oct. 24. The Penguins will lose six games, three at home, including an opener next Thursday against the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins are prohibited by the league from commenting on the cancellations or any other aspect of the lockout.
The league already had wiped out the preseason schedule, which NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said cost it about $100 million. While some teams are doing well financially, others are struggling or can't afford to lose many games before dipping into the red.
Perhaps losing the money associated with games will bring pressure for the NHL to find common ground with the NHL Players' Association on the top issue of dividing league revenue.
"I hope so, but that's certainly not our plan." Penguins forward and union representative Craig Adams said. "We don't want to lose games to put pressure on the owners. We're losing paychecks, too. It's not a good situation for anybody."
In a statement, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said that "the decision to cancel the first two weeks of the NHL season is the unilateral choice of the NHL owners. If the owners truly cared about the game and the fans, they would lift the lockout and allow the season to begin on time while negotiations continue. ... We hope we will soon have a willing negotiating partner."
Daly said in a statement that the league is "extremely disappointed" about the cancellation and that "this is about finding a solution that preserves the long-term health and stability of the league and the game. We are committed to getting this done."
The NHL's news release said it was canceling a portion of the "schedule" rather than canceling the "games," leaving open the possibility that some or all dates could be made up after Oct. 24 and a full season played if there is a timely agreement.
But there haven't been a lot of negotiating sessions between the league and the NHLPA since the lockout began Sept. 15, when the previous CBA expired. Most recently, the sides met for two hours Tuesday, and no subsequent negotiations have been scheduled.
"Everything's starting to get real serious now," Kunitz said. "Preseason has come and gone. It builds every day it goes by and you miss games. Maybe you could theoretically crunch a schedule together. It's still going to be tough to do."
Before games can be played, there must be a new CBA and a revised schedule. Players will need to be rounded up -- including some playing overseas -- and teams will need to hold at least a short training camp. Winger Pascal Dupuis figures the Penguins could adapt to a hurried schedule as well as any club because they didn't make wholesale roster changes in the offseason.
"So I think it won't be as hard as [it will be] for other teams that have tons of new players," he said.
Several Penguins have been skating four days a week at Southpointe. Others are working out elsewhere, all with the intent of being ready when things are settled. If they are settled.
There is possibility that the season will be wiped out, as 2004-05 was the last time there was a lockout.
"I think it's always in the back of your mind," Kunitz said. "The longer it gets, the more you'll see more guys go play [in Europe]."
It had been mostly Europeans signing to play overseas, but Thursday a couple of prominent non-European Philadelphia players, Claude Giroux and Daniel Briere, headed to play in Germany.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby could reach the point of signing with a European pro club.
"We are entertaining conversations with teams and leagues overseas," Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, said. "If the lockout persists, the conversations might become more serious, but nothing at the moment."
The players are aware that they aren't the only ones stung by the lockout, especially now that games are being affected. Fans don't get to watch hockey. TV networks have to fill time. And perhaps the biggest impact is on arena workers and others who depend on games for income and are in a much lower income bracket than the players.
"Nobody likes it," Adams said. "We're not getting paid. Ticket-takers aren't getting paid. Popcorn guys aren't getting paid. I know it's not the same thing, and I'm not going to pretend like it's the same thing. But our responsibility is to negotiate the best deal we can for the players.
"Unfortunately, there's a lot of people who get hurt by a lockout. We didn't choose to have a lockout. We didn't go on strike. We said we would keep playing under the old agreement until we got a deal done. So there's a lot of collateral damage, if you will, and it's terrible. But our responsibility is to get the best deal for the players."
NOTES -- Penguins center Evgeni Malkin had a power-play assist on Nikolai Kulemin's winning goal in Metallurg Magnitogorsk's 2-1 victory against Sibri Novosibirsk in the Kontinental Hockey League. He has a goal and seven assists in seven games.
First Published October 5, 2012 12:00 am