NEW YORK — The NHL canceled the rest of the preseason Thursday, just a day before negotiations were set to resume in an effort to end the lockout.
The league announced its second cancellation of preseason games in a two-sentence statement. NHL owners locked out players Sept. 16 when the collective bargaining agreement expired.
The NHL had already called off all the exhibition games scheduled in September. The regular season is supposed to begin Oct. 11.
The two sides have scheduled talks on Friday in New York, although they are on secondary economic issues as opposed to the core of the dispute, which is how to split more than $3 billion in annual revenue.
"I'll reserve judgment on my sense of 'optimism' (or not) until we see how our meetings unfold," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in an email to The Associated Press. "Ultimately, we have to meet and talk to make a deal. But until we make progress and see some compromise from the Union of their economic position, we won't be going anywhere fast.
"We will see."
The NHL and the union last met for formal negotiations Sept. 12, three days before the labor pact that ended the previous lockout — back in 2005 — ran out.
Now there is at least a glimmer of optimism as talks are expected to last through the weekend. If a deal isn't reached soon, regular-season games will be the next thing to be called off, and players will begin to miss paychecks.
In the most recent round of talks, both sides exchanged proposals on the core economic issues. The NHL made the last offer that day and said it has been waiting for the NHLPA to make a counteroffer.
"Obviously, we've got to talk before you can get a deal, so I think it's important to get the talks going again," Daly said this week. "But you also have to have something to say. I think it's fair to say we feel like we need to hear from the players' association in a meaningful way because I don't think that they've really moved off their initial proposal, which was made more than a month ago now."
As part of their decision to resume talks, the sides agreed to revisit the secondary issues that will have to be ironed out in the new CBA. Those include, but aren't limited to, grievance procedures, travel, medical care, and pensions and benefits.
"We are pleased the league is willing to come back to the bargaining table, and we look forward to Friday's discussions," NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr said on Tuesday, when the negotiations were scheduled.