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 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?''
Bill Daly, the league's chief legal officer, said this decision ''is not tactical at all,'' saying it was more of a practical decision to free up blocks of hotel rooms and other facilities that would've been needed.
''We had to make a decision on whether making those advance commitments made sense,'' Daly said in Dallas prior to an open forum with fans. ''Given where we are with the status of our negotiations, it didn't warrant making those commitments. ... It's not tactical at all.''
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.
Atlanta Thrashers general manager Don Waddell said the league began discussing the cancellation last week and finalized the decision Wednesday.
''Even if you're going to start playing in January, to try to take five days off to play the All-Star game, it's just not going to work,'' he said.
The lockout during the 1994-95 season also forced the All-Star game to be canceled.
''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.
''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 that won't achieve ''cost certainty.''
The players association says that term is tantamount to a salary cap, which it won't accept.
NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow said there was no ''crack or divisiveness'' in the union 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.
''This is another unfortunate casualty of the owners' decision to lock out the players and shut down the game,'' said Ted Saskin, the NHLPA senior director. ''Players would obviously have enjoyed participating in an All-Star Game that could have helped build interest for hockey in Atlanta.''
In the NHL's statement, the league 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.
Waddell said league officials made it clear that Atlanta would be one of the first cities in line for the next available All-Star game.
''We're more disappointed about where we are with the season, but with the All-Star game we would have had an opportunity to showcase our city and our great venue,'' Waddell said.
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