- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2004

The NHL moved one step closer yesterday to wiping out its 2004-05 season when it canceled the All-Star Game, scheduled for Feb.13 in Atlanta.

The move eliminates the league’s premier showcase event: a talent-filled exhibition that features scoring galore, no neutral-zone traps, no defense, no fighting and no checking — all in prime time on national television.

This is the second time in 10 years the game has been canceled. It was dropped during the 1994-95 lockout, when the NHL announced on the 69th day of the 103-day work stoppage that it would not be held.

Yesterday was the 49th day of the current lockout, meaning the league had advanced its cancellation timetable by nearly three weeks from a decade ago. Whether that means the owners also will advance their drop-dead date for cancellation of the season remains to be seen.

Some viewed yesterday’s move as a reply to the NHL Players Association’s tough stance during a press conference in Toronto on Tuesday. The union met with 75 members to reassure those who were questioning policies of the labor organization. The meeting was seen as a solidifying factor in closing the ranks and rallying support to battle the owners.

Some players had been urging union leadership to seek a compromise with commissioner Gary Bettman, but Bettman has gone on record saying there is no room for one — the union had to accept a salary cap just for bargaining to begin. Bob Goodenow, the union’s executive director, cited Bettman’s stand several times Tuesday in saying the union could do nothing until the league decided to negotiate.

“There’s no sign of negotiation because [Bettman] doesn’t want to sit down and talk about a fair deal,” Dallas forward Bill Guerin, a union vice president, told the Toronto Star. “Salary caps are not negotiated. They are obtained by breaking unions. … If they want to negotiate, we’ll sit down and negotiate.”

Bettman announced the lockout Sept.15, eliminating training camp for all 30 teams. The season was to start Oct.13, but instead the NHL announced six days after that date it was freeing up arenas league-wide on a rolling 45-day notice. It is felt a minimum of six weeks would be needed to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement once serious talks begin. There have been no talks since Sept.9.

“We’re sorry the realities of our situation have imposed themselves on what should have been a special time for the city of Atlanta and our fans,” Thrashers general manager Don Waddell said of the All-Star cancellation.

Hotels holding large blocks of rooms usually ask for 60 days’ warning if an event is being canceled; the league gave the host city more than 100 days’ notice, not a good sign for the prospects of any kind of season in 2004-05.

The February 2006 All-Star Game will be played at the Phoenix Coyotes’ new rink, Glendale Arena, if the work stoppage is settled by then.

To date, 429 games — 35 percent of the regular-season schedule — have been eliminated, taking into account the league’s 45-day advance cancellation policy.

Note — The NHLPA maintained yesterday that 29 of the 30 NHL teams were represented at Tuesday’s meeting. The Washington Times reported that at least four teams, including the Washington Capitals, did not have elected player representatives at the gathering, which the union did not dispute at the time. Washington was the only team that did not have a player present.

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