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Black Wednesday
NHL pulls the plug on 2004-05
2/16/05 - By Mike Lee

The executive chest thumping disguised as a last ditch efforts to save the 2004-05 NHL season came up short on Wednesday afternoon, as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman pulled the plug in an afternoon press conference in New York. Bettman reiterated the league's position and apologized to fans for failing to come to a resolution with the NHL Players Union. The Sharks held a press conference of their own three hours later to try and add some personalized condolences for San Jose fans.

Focus on the fans was the theme of the day. The league understands that the effects of the lockout now combined with the cancellation of the season means some serious fence mending with its customer base.

Sharks President Greg Jamison addresses the media at HP Pavilion on Wednesday afternoon (photo courtesy PJ Swenson)
"Every professional sports League owes its very existence to its fans", Bettmen said from the Westin Hotel in New York City. Everyone associated with the National Hockey League owes our fans an apology for being unable to accomplish what is necessary for our game and our fans. We are truly sorry.

Bettmen and his lieutenants were resolved to stand firm on the final offer, which was pitched to NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow via a faxed letter on Tuesday night. Goodenow rejected that offer and countered with a proposal that cut the gap between the sides, but it wasn't enough. The NHL rejected that counter offer Tuesday night, so the only thing that remained was the formality of announcing what no other major North American Sports League has ever had to announce.

"When I stood before you in September, I said NHL teams would not play again until our economic problems had been solved. As I stand before you today, it is my sad duty to announce that because that solution has not yet been attained, it no longer is practical to conduct even an abbreviated season. Accordingly, I have no choice but to announce the formal cancellation of play for 2004-05.

The Sharks went into fan triage mode later Wednesday afternoon at HP Pavilion.

"We are sorry for our fans," Jamison said. "We hoped that it would not come to this and that an agreement could be reached. We firmly believe that this league cannot survive under the expired system.

HP Pavilion will be without hockey for at least 6 more months (photo courtesy PJ Swenson)
Jamison towed the party line be reiterating what the league has been saying for the past six months.

"Even if it costs us and the game one fan, it hurts," said Jamison. "But the problems are so deep that it requires this drastic action. I think most fans understand our position on the issue and we can't pass on the dramatic increases that it would take to manage a $50-million payroll on to our season ticket holders. Everyone will lose - the owners, the players and most importantly the fans. However, the reality is that the League as a whole will lose less money during a lockout."

While the league served up a dose of damage control, the NHLPA did little to ease the sting of the days announcement. When asked what he thought of the fan perception that greed has driven the players during the negotiations, Goodenow did little to quell the heat.

"The sport itself is the best team spectator sport in the world", the NHLPA head said. "It's unfortunate during the course of these negotiations that the league has tried multiple times to paint the players as greedy. We've never asked for more money. It's not about greed, just about a fair deal. If you want to talk about greed, ask that question to the other side."

Continued spin doctoring certainly won't douse the discontent that is brewing amongst fans.

Some feel the league has been posturing for a cancellation if the players union wasn't broken. With an impasse at hand, replacement players could be an option open to the NHL. Goodenow, danced around a question that raised the possibility of having to deal with the league's attempt to bring in scabs.

"Whatever the league decides to do, we'll work off that. We've made steps to try to reach a fair agreement. What steps they take, we just have to wait and see," said Goodenow.

The book has been closed on 2004-05, ending the way most expected as of late. The sting is no less potent, but it's the first absolute in over a year of wrangling between the two sides. Regardless of the outcome of future negotiations, the damage has been done, and that is something neither party will ever be able to fix.

Neither side will argue Bettmen's closing remarks.

"This is a sad, regrettable day that all of us wish could have been avoided."

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