As we are all aware of by now the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the players and the owners is set to expire shortly, bringing with it the threat of a lockout as well as the potential for missed games. The sides continue to talk, and the latest news is that the owners presented the NHLPA with a new deal that the NHLPA will respond to shortly. In an effort to provide some clarity to the talks and the potential impact to the NHL schedule I've compiled a quick reference set of dates that are critical in the upcoming negotiations.
September 15, 2012 - This is the date on which the current CBA expires. If no new deal is in place by midnight on September 15 the owners have stated that they intend to lock out the players, thus ushering in a new work stoppage. What significance does September 15th have? Realistically none, which is why Donald Fehr has constantly said he doesn't see this date as a major event. Sure the owners would lock out the players, but on September 15th training camp will not have yet begun. For reference, last year the Hurricanes, like many other teams, brought players in on September 16th for physicals and opened camp the following day with the season beginning on October 6th. This year the season won't begin until October 11th, a full five days later.
More important dates after the break.
September 20th/21st, 2012 - This is the time many teams would look to open training camp. Regardless of when or if the owners lockout the players, there will be no real impact to the NHL calendar until this date. Unfortunately it's difficult to know exactly when teams would open camp as those plans have not been announced due to the CBA uncertainty. Is this date important? A bit, but not much. Players won't miss any paychecks if a lockout extends to this time frame and owners won't lose any pre-season game revenue.
September 23, 2012 - Sunday September 23 is the date of the first scheduled pre-season game between the Ottawa Senators and the Montreal Canadiens. It is the only game on the schedule for that day, but there are 10 games on the schedule for the following day. How important is this date? More so than the 20th/21st, but still not terribly significant. Owners will have to start refunding season ticket holders money for canceled pre-season games, but outside of the large markets with the large season ticket holder bases this won't impact owners much. Players will still not lose any revenue for missed games.
October 1, 2012 - This date is 10 days before the start of the regular season and likely the last day that a deal can be struck without having an impact on the regular season schedule. Any lockout continuing past this day likely doesn't give teams enough time to get players through phsyicals, some sort of training camp, and perhaps a pre-season game. This could be the day that the first set of games are canceled. How meaningful is this date? Very much so. This is the first time that both sides will be talking about losing real sums of money. The players won't get paid for games missed and the owners won't collect revenue from these missed dates.
October 11, 2012 - Opening night for the NHL. Any work stoppage beyond this point will officially interfere with the regular season, even if the decision to cancel games is made a week earlier. How meaningful is this date? Less so then the October 1 date, but it's likely that this is a day when fan displeasure gets amped up. This could also be a time where the owners decide to cancel the first month of the season.
November 9, 2012 - It was on November 9, 2004 that the NHL officially cancelled the All-Star game for the 2005-2006 season. It was also around this time that the NHL began releasing game dates on a 45-day rolling schedule meaning that arena operators were able to book other events on dates that had previously been reserved for NHL hockey games. How important is this date? Extremely important. Any lockout that stretches this long will have drastic impacts on the NHL schedule, meaning significant money lost by both owners and players.
Thanksgiving/December 1, 2012 - This is the time frame that the NBA lockout from last year ended. You may recall that getting a deal done by this time was necessary for the NBA to play on Christmas day. How important is this date? This is without a doubt the most critical time in any potential work stoppage. Without a deal in place prior to December 1 it's likely that the NHL has to cancel the Winter Classic, which would be a huge black mark for the league. Any lockout that puts in jeopardy the Winter Classic has the potential to cancel an entire season.
February 16, 2013 - It was on February 16, 2005 that Gary Bettman officially canceled the 2004-05 season. How important is this day? Very much so for both players and owners. Any work stoppage that goes beyond this time frame will cancel yet another season. Losing two seasons will have long term ramifications for the league. I'm not going to get in to what those specifics will be, but they won't be good for the players or the owners.