October Vanishes Late This Week

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Oct. 15) – By Friday afternoon at the latest, the National Hockey League will announce it has cancelled a second block of regular-season games – wiping out the remainder of October and the first week of November.

It is anticipated the league will eliminate 89 additional games – from Oct. 25 through Nov. 7 – bringing the cancellation total to 171. Gone with the second block of deletions will be virtually any hope for a full 82-game schedule, even if the NHL were to begin play on Nov. 8. Losing one month of the original schedule would necessitate the Stanley Cup final possibly going into July, a scenario the league does not embrace, for a number of good reasons.

In order to start up in the second week of November, the owners and players would have to sign off on a collective bargaining agreement by Halloween. Were that miraculous event to happen, the NHL – according to a source – would likely craft a 72-game schedule to conclude in mid-April; hardly a simple task. Factoring into any revamped schedule would be existing arena commitments, particularly in the nine cities that share NBA teams.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS SHARE UNITED CENTER WITH THE NBA BULLS. JUGGLING DATES FOR A SHORTENED NHL SEASON WOULD REQUIRE SOME WORK. HERE, THE BLACKHAWKS PLAY HOST TO DETROIT ON FEB. 21, 2012. BILL SMITH GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM

Of course, before any of this is remotely possible, Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr would need gather and discuss more than their favorite beverages. It is generally conceded that only an updated proposal by the Players Association will spawn productive talks, and there is conflicting buzz as to whether such an overture is in the works. If stalled negotiation leads to a third block of cancelled games, the Jan. 1 Bridgestone Winter Classic – and the entire 2012-13 season – will be gravely imperiled.

For the Maple Leafs, a second round of deletions would erase six more games: at New York Islanders, Oct. 26; at Philadelphia, Oct. 27; and consecutive home dates with Anaheim, Oct. 30; Boston, Nov. 1; Chicago, Nov. 3 and Pittsburgh, Nov. 7. The annual Hall of Fame game is Fri. Nov. 9 at Air Canada Centre against New Jersey, leading to the induction ceremony on Nov. 12.

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