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NHL cancels first two weeks of season

(MCT) — With labor negotiations going nowhere — that is, when both sides have actually sat at the bargaining table — the NHL announced on Thursday it was canceling the first two weeks of the regular season.

Despite a record $3.3 billion in revenue last season, the NHL and the players’ union have not been able to put a new collective-bargaining agreement in place. The league locked out the players after the CBA expired on Sept. 15.

Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players Association, said in a statement that the decision to cancel the first two weeks was “the unilateral choice of the NHL owners. 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.”

Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, fired back in a news release, saying the league was “extremely disappointed” to cancel the first two weeks. “The game deserves better, the fans deserve better, and the people who derive income from their connection to the NHL deserve better,” he said.

At the crux of the labor dispute: Trying to divide the $3.3 billion in hockey-related revenue. The players received 57 percent in the last CBA, but the owners want it reduced to around 47 percent. The players are asking for 53 to 54 percent.

The NHL has pointed out that players in the NFL (48 percent) and the NBA (50 percent) receive less — and those sports have TV contracts that are much more lucrative than the NHL’s.

Fehr, who was the players’ union leader when the baseball strike canceled the 1994 World Series, said a lockout should be the “last resort in bargaining, not the strategy of first resort.”

Said the NHL’s Daly: “This is not about winning or losing a negotiation. This is about finding a solution that preserves the long-term health and stability of the league and the game.”

The league had previously canceled exhibition games; as a result, the NHL estimated it has lost $100 million in revenue.

More losses are coming. By erasing the first two weeks of the season, the league will lose a total of 82 games. Canada’s TSN estimated that the players will lose about $120 million in salaries during that span.

The NHL and the NHLPA do not have any bargaining sessions scheduled.

“It’s disappointing,” said defenseman Braydon Coburn, the Flyers’ player representative, referring to the cancellation of games. “It’s been the owners’ choice to lock out the players, and it’s obviously their choice to take this first step and cancel some regular-season games. But the players are committed to making a deal that’s fair to both sides.”

A year ago, Forbes reported that the Flyers took in $54 million in gate receipts for the previous season.

For the Flyers, that means four games will be wiped out: home contests against Boston, Pittsburgh, and Winnipeg and a road meeting against the New York Islanders.

This year, the Flyers have sold about 18,200 season tickets to the 19,537-seat Wells Fargo Center. Only five people have canceled their tickets because of the lockout, said Shawn Tilger, the Flyers’ senior vice president of business operations.

Season-ticket holders can elect to receive 2 percent interest on the money they have paid the team or receive refunds for games canceled on a month-by-month basis.

Because of the lockout, players will not receive their first paychecks on Oct. 15. But at around the same time they will receive escrow checks, giving them 8.5 percent of their 2011-12 salaries.

Meanwhile, Flyers forwards Danny Briere and Claude Giroux decided to play in Germany during the lockout. They will play for Eisbaren Berlin in the top German league. Ilya Bryzgalov, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek, Ruslan Fedotenko and Matt Read are other Flyers playing overseas.

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