It's official: the 2004-2005 NHL season is cancelled.
I can't say I'm too sad about it, if only because I've been prepared for the worst for a while. It's been very clear for the past year or so that everybody involved in these negotiations was ready to scrap at least one full season of hockey. That's now a done deal — the only done deal in sight. Is it a good thing? No. But it's better than going ahead with a deal which won't fix any of the financial problems that seem to be afflicting the NHL.
How do I know there are financial problems? Do I believe the owners' line implicitly? Not really. But consider that a) Canada is still the heart of the NHL in terms of player generation and fan support, and b) Calgary, Canada's fourth-largest city, has real problems maintaining a competitive lineup due to salary concerns. Put these two facts together and you can see that there's a problem somewhere along the line.
With any luck, the cancellation of the season will result in a deal which will fix the above-cited fact. Maybe it'll even allow for the return of a city like Winnipeg to the league. Unfortunately, it may also result in the possibility of a new franchise in Québec City, but you gotta take the bad with the good.
Especially since the other real possibility is that the labour dispute may result in real long-term damage to the NHL. Nobody wants that.