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NHL season is canceled

Bettman finally calls it off

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The NHL canceled what little was left of the season today after a series of last-minute offers were rejected on the final day of negotiations.

A lockout over a salary cap shut down the game before it ever got a chance to start in October. Now the NHL, already low on the popularity scale in the United States, becomes the first major pro sports league in North America to lose an entire season to a labor dispute.

"I have no choice but to cancel the 2004-05 season," commissioner Gary Bettman said. "This is a sad, regrettable day that all of us wish could have been avoided."

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The league and players' union traded a flurry of proposals and letters Tuesday night, but could never agree on a cap. The players proposed $49 million per team; the owners said $42.5 million.

"We weren't as close as people were speculating," Bettman said.

This will be the first time the Stanley Cup isn't awarded since 1919 when a flu epidemic forced the finals to be called off.

"Through the decades and the generations we have faced a variety of crises and challenges -- some of which seemed catastrophic at the time," Bettman said. "The league persevered through all those adversities and the league will persevere through this one, as well -- to emerge with a framework for the future, one that is fair to everyone -- where our players are fairly paid, receiving what we can afford.

"No more, no less."

Before Monday, the idea of a salary cap was a deal-breaker for the players' association but the union gave in and said it would accept one when the NHL dropped its insistence that there be a link between revenues and player costs.

Bettman said in his second letter Tuesday to NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow that "We cannot afford your proposal."

Goodenow disputed Bettman's claim in a letter, taking a hard-line stance and replying, "You will receive nothing further from us."

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