DETROIT – Danny Cleary is optimistic there will be games played this season in the NHL.
The biggest question is how long until that happens.
Saturday came and went without any negotiations between the league and the players’ association on a new collective bargaining agreement, which meant a lockout by the owners once midnight hit.
“It’s not looking great, it’s looking very bleak at best,” Cleary said before the midnight deadline drew near. “We still have time. The season doesn’t start until October, so we’ll see how it goes. My guess would be we’re not going to start the season on time.”
The Wings were scheduled to report to training camp in Traverse City on Sept. 21 and the season was slated to open on Oct. 11.
This would be the third lockout under NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
The first, in 1994-95, ended after 103 days.
The last time the league locked the players out it resulted in the cancellation of the 2004-05 season.
Another cancelled season is something many of the players feel could really hurt the league this time around.
“Another full year, the implications would be … I don’t know what they’d be,” Cleary said. “I’d like to say catastrophic, just devastating, but I mean last time, they weren’t. Maybe early on it was, but as we’ve seen, the league has really grown well. I think hockey’s in a better place now.
“We owe it to ourselves not to have a full season wasted,” Cleary added. “We need to come to an agreement. That’s pretty much going to be up to Don (Fehr), but someone’s going to have to move at some point, us or Gary.”
Both sides traded proposals Wednesday, but neither new offer moved the sides any closer to a deal.
“I hope that both sides can realize that the longer we go, the uglier it’s going to get,” Cleary said. “Nobody wants to not start the season on time. My way of thinking is that eventually, we’re going to come to an agreement. We’re going to have hockey at some point, so let’s try to reach that point as quickly as we can.”
Players are concerned owners haven’t addressed the league’s financial problems.
And after making huge concessions to reach a deal in 2005, the players don’t feel like it should be on their shoulders again to give in to reach another CBA.
In 2005, players took an immediate 24 percent rollback on existing contracts. In return they got 57 percent of hockey-related revenues.
“I think we did enough last time,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “We basically gave them everything they wanted. One of the reasons we did that was because we didn’t want to be in this situation again, yet here we are.
“It’s the third lockout in I don’t know how many years,” Zetterberg added. “Ever since Bettman came into the league office, that’s been his way to handle stuff. That’s not a fun thing, but that’s how he approaches this. We are ready for it. We’ve been ready. We’re ready to have a fight.”
The owners want to reduce the player’s percentage of hockey-related revenues to less than 50 percent.
The union offered a deal based on actual dollars, seeking a guarantee of the $1.8 billion players received last season.
“It’s going well for the players and it’s going well for the league,” Cleary said. “We’ve both grown a hell of a lot in the last seven years. Look at this year, at least 12 or 13 teams have got a real good chance at winning the Stanley Cup, maybe more. That’s a pretty good thing, and I don’t think you could have said that in ‘04.”
Also in jeopardy would be the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day at the University of Michigan and the All-Star game in Columbus.
This will be the third work stoppage to hit a major sports league in 18 months, following ones in the NFL and the NBA.
“This is not a situation anybody wants to be in, unfortunately that’s the way it is and we’ll have to deal with it,” Niklas Kronwall said. “The best case scenario is that this gets solved on Sunday or on Monday. Everyone wants it to be over, but at the same time we want a fair deal.”