The National Hockey League (NHL) 2004-2005 season was cancelled on Wednesday after owners and players failed to reach a labor agreement, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.
"It is my sad duty to announce it is no longer practical to conduct even an abbreviated season," Bettman said. "Accordingly, I have no choice but to announce the formal cancellation of play for 2004-2005."
The NHL becomes the first US sports league to lose an entire season to a labor dispute.
It will mark just the second time since 1893 that a Stanley Cup champion hasn't been crowned. In 1919, the Finals were cancelled after five games due to a flu epidemic.
Players Association executive director Bob Goodenow, speaking hours later in Toronto, made it clear he believed Bettman and the league bore responsibility for the stalemate.
"I had hoped we would never see the NHL owners and their commissioner do the unthinkable and cancel an entire NHL season," Goodenow said.
"But unfortunately, Gary Bettman and the owners did exactly that today. The players sincerely wanted a fair deal and pushed hard to get one. Unfortunately, we never had a real negotiating partner," he said.
Bettman called it a "sad, regrettable day, that all of us wish could have been avoided."
However, it was a day that had come to seem inevitable.
Owners locked out players on Sept. 15 after the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement.
In the ensuing five months, the two sides dug in over the issue of a salary cap, the league insisting salary controls based on revenues were necessary to control costs and the union vowing it would never accept such limits.
Players' proposals for solving the league's fiscal woes included a luxury tax, salary givebacks and changes in revenue distribution.
A flicker of hope flared early this week when the union relented on the idea of the salary cap and owners agreed that a cap didn't have to be linked directly to revenues.
But a final flurry of proposals on Tuesday proved too little and far too late as the sides couldn't reach agreement on any concrete figures.
Bettman said the players' proposed US$52 million salary limit for each club was too high.
Bettman presented a counter-proposal that raised the league's proposed cap from US$40 million to US$44.7 million.
Goodenow offered a counter-proposal to Bettman's "final" offer, rejecting the US$44.7 million figure and seeking a US$49 million annual cap for each of the league's 30 clubs.
But Bettman said that the union's figure was so high that clubs which were already spending themselves into bankruptcy to stay competitive would have no cost containment and in fact would allow for greater spending.
"It just ground to a halt," Goodenow said, saying that Bettman's take-it-or-leave it offer left no room for discussion.
"Gary Bettman said he wasn't negotiating off his proposal, and that's what happened," he said.
"We weren't as close as people were speculating," Bettman said, and added that in future negotiations the league would again demand that player salaries must be linked to team revenues.
"The best deal that was on the table is now gone," he said.
Goodenow said he expected future negotiations to start with a clean slate.
"It's a fresh start. I think everything is off the table and we begin anew, because it's new circumstances," he said.
And Goodenow reacted bitterly to the suggestion that fans would blame the loss of the season on players' greed.