- Associated Press - Saturday, September 15, 2012

NEW YORK — The NHL locked out its players at midnight Saturday, becoming the third major sports league to impose a work stoppage in the last 18 months.

The action also marks the fourth shutdown for the NHL since 1992, including a year-long dispute that forced the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season when the league held out for a salary cap.

The deal which ended that dispute expired at midnight, and Commissioner Gary Bettman followed through on his longstanding pledge to lock out the players with no new agreement in place.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the shutdown was effective at 12:01 a.m. Sunday. The union said it would have no comment.

The sides were so far apart in their discussions that they didn’t even meet face-to-face for negotiations on Saturday.

The core issue is money — how to split a $3.3 billion pot of revenue. The owners want to decrease the percentage of hockey-related revenue that goes to players, while the union wants a guarantee that players annually get at least the $1.8 billion in salaries paid out last season.

Long before the clock struck 12, the lockout was considered a foregone conclusion.

“We talked with the union this morning, and in light of the fact that they have nothing new to offer, or any substantive response to our last proposal, there would be nothing gained by convening a bargaining session at this time,” Daly said in a statement earlier Saturday. “I’m sure that we will remain in contact in the coming days.”

The dispute is latest chapter in labor unrest that has vexed American professional sports. The NFL was locked out for much of the offseason in 2011 while the last NBA season was shortened from 82 games to 66 and began on Christmas.

Baseball successfully reached a labor deal and some have suggested that the fact MLB didn’t have a work stoppage has to do with the fact that baseball has no salary cap, allowing for more wiggle room in negotiations.

Despite a third straight day of telephone discussions between Daly and players’ association special counsel Steve Fehr, the brother of NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, hopes of face-to-face talks were dashed early Saturday.

“We suggested that the parties meet in advance of the owners’ self-imposed deadline of midnight tonight,” Steve Fehr said Saturday in a written statement. “Don Fehr, myself and several players on the Negotiating Committee were in the City and prepared to meet. The NHL said that it saw no purpose in having a formal meeting.

“There have been and continue to be private, informal discussions between representatives of both sides.”

It now appears unlikely that training camps will open next week. The regular season is scheduled to begin Oct. 11, but that is also in peril.

“It’s a sad situation for everybody. Nobody wants to be in this spot,” Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We couldn’t agree on a deal. We see it one way, and the owners another way unfortunately.”

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