NHL LABOUR WOES
NHL poised to pull plug on games
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media in New York days before the league officially locked out its players. (REUTERS)
As NHL Lockout 3.0 moved through Day 2 Monday, there again were no formal talks between the league and the NHL players association on a new collective bargaining agreement.
Instead, it appears the infuriating situation is only moving in the opposite direction: an entrenchment on both sides for what appears will be a prolonged impasse.
As more players departed for Europe, preparations are being made by the NHL to announce in the next couple of days the cancellation of the first wave of exhibition games, which were scheduled to start Sunday with the Ottawa Senators visiting the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
There are 10 exhibition games scheduled for Monday, including the Senators at the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Buffalo Sabres at Montreal, the unique idea of split squads of Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames each hosting a game against each other and the Winnipeg Jets at the Edmonton Oilers.
The Nashville Predators and the Florida Panthers are scheduled to have a split-squad doubleheader in Florida Monday with one game at 2:30 p.m. and the other at 7 p.m.
As things stands now, all those games are in peril.
Some teams have already announced refund policies in the event of exhibition and/or regular-season games being cancelled.
On the Montreal Canadiens official website, the pre-sale of single-game tickets for both exhibition and regular-season games has been cancelled "and will be pushed back to a later date. We apologize for any inconvenience."
There are considerations to be made in the timing of the cancellations.
Having already disappointed its fans, the league will want to consider not ticking them off further with last-minute cancellations. The league will want to give them time to make adjustments to travel plans for those who might have been planning to attend exhibition games. There are also the logistics involved in getting teams to the cities in which they are scheduled to play and flights and hotel reservations to be cancelled.
Given the logistics of getting players back from Europe and into training camp when or if there is a settlement, it will probably take a couple of days for players to report to their respective NHL cities. Teams will likely want to practice for a couple of days before having their first exhibition games, so it is possible the league will cancel exhibition games in at least four-day blocks or perhaps as much as a week at a time.
There's no calculating at this point what has been the damage to league business. The cancellation of exhibition games, particularly those in Canada where, for the most part, the games are usually played in nearly full buildings at close to regular-season prices, the loss in revenue will be tangible.
Tickets for an exhibition game between the Leafs and the Philadelphia Flyers at the John Labatt Centre in London, for example, ranged from $65 to $100. That's a decent night's haul.
Teams have not yet started paying players -- that doesn't happen until the regular season is under way -- so the revenue from exhibition games for those teams fortunate enough to attract decent crowds is close to found money.
I know for a few people, missing a few exhibition games is viewed as doing the game a favour, but, once again, it will be some of the league's fans who will be hurt. Go to an NHL exhibition game and see how many kids are there. Season-ticket holders often don't go to the games, to the benefit of young fans, and many clubs run ticket promotions for pre-season games that make it affordable for families to at least see a few regular NHL players play live.
For fans of some of the big-market teams, exhibition games represent a rare opportunity to get a team to see their team's colours live, given regular-season tickets are hard to come by.
So, again, the impending cancellation of those exhibition games because of the lockout will likely zing those fans the most.
Top five exhibition games on chopping block
The NHL is preparing to cancel the first wave of pre-season games, barring a miracle resolution to the impasse in collective bargaining talks between the league and its players.
The exhibition schedule was set to begin Sunday.
Here's a look at the top five pre-season games (I know, that sounds like an oxymoron) that are in the most peril of being cancelled during the next few days:
1. In an interesting concept which we've seen in baseball's spring training, the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames are scheduled to have a pair of split-squad games next Monday. One is to be played in Calgary and the other in Vancouver.
2. Also next Monday, the Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers are scheduled to have split-squad games, with both to be played in Florida, one in the afternoon and one at night. I know, two games featuring the Predators and Panthers in one day; the league cancelling those would be doing many fans a favour.
3. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators are scheduled to renew the Battle of Ontario next Monday night. Exhibition or not, there's always the potential for fireworks. I know some fans will say it's interesting the Leafs don't have any split-squad games. Insert your own joke.
4. The Senators are scheduled to start the pre-season schedule Sunday with a visit to Montreal. Exhibition game or not, the Bell Centre always rocks.
5. The Winnipeg Jets are scheduled next Monday to visit the Edmonton Oilers. Getting a look at the young Oilers, if they decide to dress all their top picks, would be fun.