NEW YORK - In another sign the NHL season is slipping away, the league canceled its All-Star game Wednesday because of the lockout.
No regular-season games have been played since the season was scheduled to begin on Oct. 13, and NHL arenas have been given the go-ahead to release dates on a 45-day rolling basis. With the All-Star game now off the schedule, the next announcement could be the cancellation of the entire season.
"To call off something that's a lot of fun for the fans to enjoy is a shame," nine-time All-Star Jeremy Roenick of the Philadelphia Flyers told The Associated Press. "It has no bearing on anything. They still haven't canceled games in January. Why haven't they canceled games in January but they're canceling the All-Star game?"
The lockout, now in its 49th day, was imposed by commissioner Gary Bettman after the collective bargaining agreement expired on Sept. 15.
Bettman declined comment on the cancellation of the game, which was scheduled to be held in Atlanta in February.
The NHL and the players association haven't met since Sept. 9 and have no plans to return to the bargaining table.
The lockout during the 1994-95 season also forced the cancellation of the All-Star game, scheduled to be played in San Jose, Calif.
"I don't know if it's so much a ploy as to get anybody all riled up or nervous that they're canceling stuff like that," Roenick said. "I don't think it changed the mind-frame of what the PA is getting behind."
The previous lockout ended when an agreement was reached in January 1995. Each team then played a 48-game schedule.
A new deal would have to be reached by the same time in this season for any part of the campaign to be salvaged.
"The season is likely to slip away," Bettman said in an interview this week with TSN in Canada. "Whether or not we miss half a season or three-quarters of a season, or don't have a season at all - that is not the issue from our standpoint, We need a deal that is the right deal to address the problems and let us go forward. When we make that deal, when it is all signed up, we initial it, dot the i's, cross the t's, we both ratify it. Then if there is time for the semblance of a season, we'll have one.
"If not, we'll see you next season or whenever."
Over 70 players got together in Toronto on Tuesday to get an update from union leadership. The meeting came after a handful of the more than 700 members said they would be willing to play under a salary-cap system or would return to the ice next season if the NHL decided to use replacement players if a deal wasn't reached.
The NHLPA made the last proposal in September, a plan centered around a luxury tax instead of a salary cap. The NHL rejected it because the league says it won't achieve "cost certainty."
The players association says that term is tantamount to a salary cap, which it refuses to accept.
NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow said there was no "crack or divisiveness" in the union. He said no new proposals would be made to the league as a result of Tuesday's meeting, and he's waiting for a new offer from the league.
"I'm hopeful that there will be a season, but I have to tell you, there's a good chance there won't be," Goodenow said.
Atlanta would've held its third All-Star game in five years, after hosting the Major League Baseball and NBA events. The weekend scheduled for Feb. 12-13 would've been the first time the Thrashers, who began play in 1999, served as the host.
In its statement, the NHL said the earliest Atlanta can hold All-Star weekend is 2008 since the 2006 game has already been awarded to the Phoenix Coyotes and plans for the 2007 game are near completion.
"We apologize to the fans, to the city of Atlanta, to the Thrashers and to all those who already have devoted so much effort to planning this important hockey celebration," said Frank Supovitz, the group vice president of NHL events and entertainment. "We will reschedule All-Star weekend for Atlanta as soon as possible and will do everything we can to reward everyone's patient support."
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