Monday, February 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning players lament NHL regular-season game cancellations

It was not unexpected the NHL — with its players locked out and negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement stalled — would start canceling regular-season games.

But that did not stop the laments Thursday after 82 games through Oct. 24 were lost, including the Lightning's first four.

"It's frustrating, no doubt," wing Marty St. Louis said.

Said captain Vinny Lecavalier: "Any time you miss hockey, it's disappointing."

The season was supposed to begin Oct. 11. Tampa Bay's first game was Oct. 13. The preseason previously was canceled.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said there still is a chance to play a full 82-game schedule if a deal is reached quickly. But after talks broke off Tuesday and with none scheduled, that seems more a dream than a plan, especially with Daly and players association executive director Donald Fehr bemoaning the lack of a willing negotiating partner.

"The game deserves better, the fans deserve better and the people who derive income from their connection deserve better," Daly said in a statement. "This is not about winning and losing a negotiation. This is about finding a solution that preserves the long-term health and stability of the league and the game."

That said, "The decision to cancel the first two weeks of the NHL season is the unilateral choice of the NHL owners," Fehr said in a statement. "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."

The sides since early September have not budged on how to split $3.3 billion in revenue. The NHL proposes a six-year deal with players receiving 47 to 49 percent. The players, who last season received 57 percent of revenue, propose a five-year deal in which they receive from 52.2 to 54.3 percent.

Players, who took a 24 percent salary rollback after the 2004-05 lockout, say givebacks should go to expanded revenue sharing for struggling teams. The owners balked and on Sept. 15 locked out the players for the third time in 18 years, each under commissioner Gary Bettman. Said Fehr, "A lockout should be the last resort, not the strategy of first resort. Nevertheless, the players remain committed to playing hockey while the parties work to reach a deal fair to both sides."

St. Louis said he understands a fight over how to slice a very big pie might seem unseemly. "For a regular guy, it's hard," he said. "But it's not so much about the money. It's about getting a fair deal. Last time, we got hosed. We built the game back up with how hard the guys worked. We're trying to work in (the owners') direction. We just don't see the same coming back our way."

The danger, Lecavalier said, is fans become so disgusted they turn away from the game. "They're saying, 'Just get it done. Get the deal done,' " Lecavalier said. "Right now there's not much improvement, so it's understandable how people feel. But I can tell you as a player we want to get this thing done, but we want a fair deal for both sides."

The Lightning lost its Oct. 13 season opener at Florida and three games at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. "We are disappointed for our fans," it said in a statement.

Players will lose the first of 13 paychecks, or 7.7 percent of salaries. They will, though, get checks for between 8 and 8.5 percent of last season's salary that was withheld so players did not take in more than 57 percent of revenue. The lost preseason, Daly said, cost the league $100 million.

"It's disappointing," Lecavalier said, "to see where everything is."

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