National Hockey League (NHL) games in the US and Canada have been cancelled after a row over pay – the first-ever loss by a sport of an entire season because of an industrial dispute.
Since last September, NHL management has locked out players in a bid to impose a salary cap of about $42m (£22m) per team to deal with the ice hockey league’s falling revenues and mounting debts.
Losses in 2004 topped $270m (£142m), with several teams close to bankruptcy. But plans to introduce salary caps and a restructured economic framework have been opposed by the players.
Now, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has pulled the plug on hockey fans’ hopes for even an abbreviated 2004-05 season, after talks with the players’ union broke down without agreement.
According to Bettman, player salaries have increased by 240% since 1995, while revenues have increased by only 160%. The average NHL salary now tops $2m (£1.05m) per season.
The players have made some concessions, including a one-year salary cut of 24% and a new revenue-sharing plan, according to union chief Bob Goodenow. However, he added that the players “would not be agreeing a salary cap”.
League management said this does not go far enough and it wants a framework in place that provides “cost certainty”.
The NHL is the only one of the four major US sports – American football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey – that does not have some form of salary control.
Neither the Great Depression of the 1930s nor the Second World War could prevent the NHL from awarding the Stanley Cup title.
Now it looks like the trophy will not be contested for the first time since 1919, when the global flu pandemic wiped out the finals.