A day that every hockey fan has dreaded came to pass today. At a 1 PM (ET) press conference, commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the league was canceling the 2004-2005 NHL season. This marks the first time in North American professional sports that a league has lost an entire season due to a labor dispute. It also marks the first time the Stanley Cup has not been awarded since 1919, when a flu epidemic prematurely ended the playoffs.
Most fans had hoped that the two sides would reach a last minute agreement, as it appeared the two sides had finally gotten desperate, as both sides discarded major philosophical differences. Less than 48 hours before the deadline, the players gave up on their no salary cap stance and the league gave up on its quest for cost certainty. The league made its final offer that included a 42.5 million dollar (US) salary cap, while the players countered with a 49 million dollar salary cap. Many hoped the two sides would meet somewhere in the middle, but no compromise was made.
Bettman made the following comment at his press conference: “When I stood before you in September, I said NHL teams would not play again until our economic problems had been solved . . . As I stand before you today, it is my sad duty to announce that because that solution has not yet been attained, it no longer is practical to conduct even an abbreviated season. Accordingly, I have no choice but to announce the formal cancellation of play for 2004-05.” He also noted that the two sides had not gotten as close to an agreement as the media made it appear.
Player’s Union president Bob Goodenow placed the blame solely on Bettman and the owners, saying they are the ones who started the lockout in the first place. He claimed the offers he made would have solved the owners’ money problems without the use of a cap or cost certainty, and said the 24% salary rollback would have “solved the problem with one fell swoop.” This, however, is quite a stretch, as player salaries would have escalated back to the current numbers after just a few years.
One thing that both sides finally agreed on was that now that the season has been cancelled, they are back to where they started. Both sides have said they have taken their best offer off the table. The league will once again seek cost certainty and the players will go back to refusing a salary cap.
Today is truly a sad day for all fans of the NHL. Forget Marty McSorley’s hit on Donald Brashear. Forget Dany Heatley’s crash that resulted in the death of teammate Dan Snyder. Forget Todd Bertuzzi’s hit on Steve Moore. Forget every black-eye the NHL has ever had. Today, February 16, 2005, will go down as the ugliest day in NHL history.