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NHL cancels first 2 weeks of regular season

| Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, 2:30 p.m.
The Penguins celebrates Evgeni Malkins' 49 goal of the season in the third period against the Rangers at Consol Energy Center April 5, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

It came as no surprise, but the news still shook hockey circles Thursday: The NHL canceled the first two weeks of the regular season due to the player lockout.

“Right now,” Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen said, “this whole thing just stinks. It totally stinks.”

The decision marked the third time regular-season games have been lost on commissioner Gary Bettman's watch. The 1994-95 season did not start until January because of a lockout, and the 2004-05 season was lost because of another lockout that resulted in a convincing victory for the league.

Players have been locked out since Sept. 15.

The season was scheduled to begin Oct. 11, and the Penguins were set to open at Consol Energy Center on Oct. 12 against the New York Islanders. With the cancellation of two weeks — through Oct. 24 — 82 games are postponed, including six Penguins contests. It was unclear whether the games would be rescheduled.

“We remain committed to doing everything in our power to forge an agreement that is fair to the players, fair to the teams, and good for our fans,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement. “This is not about ‘winning' or ‘losing' a negotiation. This is about finding a solution that preserves the long-term health and stability of the league and the game. We are committed to getting this done.”

The Penguins announced that full refunds for canceled games would be given to season-ticket holders who request one in writing. They also said they still have no plans to lay off employees.

“The decision to cancel the first two weeks of the NHL season is the unilateral choice of the NHL owners,” NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr said. “If the owners truly cared about the game and the fans, they would lift the lockout and allow the season to begin on time while negotiations continue. A lockout should be the last resort in bargaining, not the strategy of first resort.”

The NHL and NHLPA have talked four days during the lockout's almost three weeks. Only minor issues were discussed during recent meetings, as neither side has been willing to consider the other's proposal.

The biggest divide remains how to distribute revenue.

Players said they aren't interested in losing a second season in eight years.

“We all want to get out there and play,” Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy said.

No meetings are scheduled between the league and union. There is optimism on each side that an 82-game schedule could still take place should a deal be struck shortly. But games do not appear to be imminent.

“We want to talk. We want to get this done,” said right wing Craig Adams, the Penguins' player representative.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jyohe@tribweb.com or 412-664-9161 Ext. 1975.

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