While the National Hockey League has 61 days until the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires, on Monday, the growing uncertainty claimed one of its first casualties: the annual Capitals Convention.
If the owners - as expected - lock out the players on Sept. 15 if a new deal isn't signed by that point, current NHL players will not be allowed in or to practice at team facilities, nor take part in any promotional events for the club - such as the Capitals Convention. And, with a major appeal for the fans attending being autographs of current players, without a guarantee, the team elected to scrap this year's version.
While former players not currently members of the NHLPA would be able to participate, the appeal would be greatly reduced with no current Capitals in attendance.
"The Capitals Convention has been a tremendous success in its first three years, attracting sold-out crowds of more than 6,500 fans to the day-long interactive celebration of the Washington Capitals," a team statement read. "This annually features the entire Capitals roster and prominent alumni from around the world. In the past the Caps Convention has been held in late September or early October.
"Due to the uncertainty surrounding the collective bargaining agreement the Capitals have decided not to hold a convention in 2012, but the event will return in the fall of 2013."
The Caps first introduced the Caps Convention in 2009, holding it at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, then moved it downtown to the Washington Convention Center the last two years. While it normally was held towards the end of training camp, the team opted to cancel rather than shift it to later in the calendar year.
Over the weekend, the negotiations between the league's owners and players union began in earnest, with the owners making a proposal that would reduce the percentage of revenues that goes to the players from 57 percent to 46 percent. For a league that reportedly had a $3.3 billion in revenue last season - up from $2.2 billion the season before the last lockout - to ask the players to take a sizable pay cut was an ominous sign.
However, as is the nature of labor negotiations, both sides are looking to maximize their leverage before the actual deadline nears. As fans saw with the recent NFL and NBA negotiations, little progress was made until the agreement actually expired.
In the NHL's case, that is a bit more problematic, since the old CBAs were written to expire in September to allow the league to hold the Canada Cup or World Cup of Hockey tournament, which was played in the final days of the old agreement. But without a tournament this year, the late expiration date of the CBA provides more of a problem with both sides certainly going to be employing some brinksmanship in this round of negotiations - the first since the league's lockout claimed the entire 2004-05 season.
When comparing the last two work stoppages in the NHL, it is important to remember that both were an attempt to install a hard salary cap on the league's players. In 1994-95, faced with canceling the season, the owners yielded, and did not get the cap they wanted. But in 2004-05, the owners didn't blink, canceling the season and getting a new cap in 2005-06.
This time around, the bigger issue is how to divide up the growing revenue of the league, which has grown 50 percent despite being the first league to wipe out an entire season just seven years ago. While it can prove to be a contentious exercise - the NBA went through similar pains this past fall but pushed to the "brink," solved its CBA talks over Thanksgiving weekend and started on Christmas - it is a relatively easier issue to resolve than the actual salary structure.
Two dates are important to remember in the NHL's labor talks, as they will loom large in trying to get a new deal done. The first is the day after Thanksgiving, the first game of NBC's annual national television contract likely featuring a showdown between the Bruins and Rangers.
The second - and more important - is New Year's Day, when the league will hold its sixth annual Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Michigan, an outdoor game between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings. The game, which is one of the highest-rated regular-season games the league offers, also should generate more ticket revenue in one day than the Phoenix Coyotes will earn all regular season.
The league has operated on a short schedule before, playing 48 games - with all games between teams in the same conference - after the 1994-95 lockout was resolved in January. Reportedly, had the 2004-05 lockout been settled in last-ditch talks in February, the league would have played a schedule with less than 40 games.
So, while the potential is certainly there the league may not get off to a start on time, it certainly would appear unlikely a potential work stoppage would wipe out more than the first three months of the regular season.
While the Capitals Convention is one of the first of events that could be wiped out with the NHL's labor woes, it certainly doesn't appear to be as dire as it was in 2004-05.