The NHL could be one step away from canceling another hockey season because of a labor fight with the players.
In the latest round of cancellations, the NHL on Thursday wiped out all games through Jan. 14. More than 50 percent of the schedule has been lost, and the rest is now in great danger, too.
“I don’t want to characterize what today’s cancellations mean or don’t mean,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press in an email. “I will stand on the announcement that was made.”
So far, 625 regular-season games have been called off, including nearly 100 in the announcement made Thursday — the 96th day of the NHL’s lockout. The New Year’s Day Winter Classic and the All-Star game also have been lost.
The NHL had previously canceled games through Dec. 30.
Daly said in a radio interview Wednesday that mid-January is likely the latest the sides could go to make a deal to save the season. When pressed, however, he said he expects the season will be played.
No drop-dead date has been announced by the NHL, which is the only North American professional sports league to cancel a season because of to a labor dispute. The 2004-05 season was lost to a lockout.
The groups have remained apart since two days of meetings with a federal mediator last week produced no progress. There haven’t been negotiations since Dec. 6 in New York, when talks broke down after a few days of bargaining.
Since the sides split last week, there has been limited contact — phone calls and a brief email exchange.
The NHL believes negotiations should resume only when there is something new to say.
“I don’t think either party is refusing a meeting,” Daly said Wednesday. “But unless there is an indication one side or the other is prepared to move or has a new idea to move the process forward — and so far neither side has indicated — I am not sure what we would do at the meeting.
“What is the agenda? Who is directing the conversation? We don’t have anything new to say right now.”
Union executive director Donald Fehr said Wednesday he was glad to hear Daly’s belief that there would be a season, and added he hopes Daly is right.
“Hopefully, we’ll get back together and negotiate out the remaining issues as soon as possible,” Fehr said. “(We aren’t talking) because the owners have not indicated a desire to resume.
“We’ve indicated any number of times that we’re willing to resume when they are (and) we’re willing to resume without preconditions. So we’re waiting to hear back from them.”
Last week, the NHL announced it filed a class action suit in the U.S. District Court in New York, seeking to establish that its lockout is legal. In a filing posted Thursday, the court said the union had three weeks after receiving the suit to file an answer.