The NHL is in a deep freeze.
With talks on a new collective-bargaining agreement at a standstill, the league lopped off another huge chunk of its regular-season schedule Friday, canceling 191 games from Nov. 2 through Nov. 30. That brings the number to 326 games out of a possible 1,230, or 26.5 percent of the season.
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The league "deeply regrets having to take this action,'' NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. "By presenting a proposal to the NHLPA that contemplated a fair division of revenues and was responsive to player concerns regarding the value of their contracts, we had hoped to be able to forge a long-term collective-bargaining agreement that would have preserved an 82-game regular season for our fans. Unfortunately, that did not occur.''
Union executive director Donald Fehr had a different take. "The message from the owners seems to be: If you don't give us exactly what we want, there is no point in talking,'' said Fehr, who has offered three alternatives to the recent proposal. "They have shown they are very good at delivering deadlines and demands, but we need a willing partner to negotiate. We hope they return to the table in order to get the players back on the ice soon.''
Although some games could be restored if a deal is reached in the next few weeks, at this point, 21 Rangers games and 22 Islanders games are off the original schedule. For the Rangers, seven of the 12 knocked out Friday were home games; seven of the 13 Islanders games were slated for Nassau Coliseum. No negotiations have been scheduled, but a 60- or 64-game schedule still is possible if the season begins Dec. 1.
The Winter Classic, scheduled for Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Jan. 1 and matching the Red Wings and Maple Leafs, was not axed, although commissioner Gary Bettman has said a decision will have to be made very soon, given the financial commitments and preparations necessary.
About 140 players are playing overseas, and many others could join them if no constructive talks are held next week, agents who wished to remain anonymous said Friday. Three Rangers already are there: Rick Nash (Switzerland), Ryan McDonagh (KHL) and Carl Hagelin (Sweden), and other Blueshirts are considering the possibility.
Friday's announcement came on the 41st day of the lockout. The sides have not met face-to-face for more than a week, and they failed to come close to a deal by Thursday, which would have allowed the season to start Nov. 2.