Reporting Tim Kephart
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NEW YORK (CBSMiami) – Any hopes from hockey fans for an NHL season look like they’re about to be put on ice for at least another year.
The NHL canceled all games through January 14th as a result of the owner-imposed lockout. The work stoppage will enter its fifth month in January and could be on the verge of doing permanent damage to any hopes the league has of re-establishing itself as the number four major sport in the U.S.
The league has become the butt of work stoppage jokes under Commissioner Gary Bettman as the league has lost 2,323 games during his tenure to work stoppages. Just during the current lockout, the NHL has lost 625 games to the lockout, or 51 percent of the season.
The NHL has said previously that the point of no return to not having a season is roughly mid-January. If negotiations are still stalled at that point, the league will likely cancel the entire regular season for the second time in the last decade.
The league owners are seeking to impose a stricter salary cap, increase the time it takes to become a free agent, limit the maximum duration of contracts to five years, and eliminate signing bonuses among other provisions.
According to Bloomberg, the proposals being pushed by the owners would reduce the average player’s wages by anywhere from 15 to 20 percent. The league is doing this despite coming off a record year of revenue of roughly $3.3 billion.
Wednesday, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said he expects there to be an NHL season this year. NHL Players Association executive director Donald Fehr responded, “I certainly hope he’s right.”
The NHL players have discussed dissolving the union as a way to deal with the lockout, but no movement has happened on that front. A similar move by the NFL Players Association didn’t work out for the players, but did help spur serious negotiations to avoid missing any games.
The same can’t be said for the NHL. The owners and players are equally dug into their respective positions and neither is ready to move to help the other side make any more concessions.
The big losers in the current fight between the league and its players is both the fans and local business owners who see a big influx of business before, during, and after hockey games, as well as the regular employees of hockey teams.
Business owners will not be able to recoup the money they lose and many team employees may get laid off until a resolution one way or the other is completed by the players and the owners.
But the fans are where the NHL continues to shoot itself in the foot. Hockey was a marginally major sport before the last full season was canceled and lost even more luster during the current lockout.
For example, according to Deadspin.com, ESPN spent a grand total of less than 20 seconds discussing the lockout on SportsCenter last week. Without ESPN’s support, the league is quickly fading into oblivion in some of the smaller markets and even some large markets.
If the fans don’t come back in a major way, the haggling over how to split up the revenue of $3.3 billion will be a thing of the past.
(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)