The National Hockey League has officially locked out its players for the third time in 18 years after a midnight deadline for a new collective bargaining agreement with owners passed without a deal being struck.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had warned players the league would lock them out if a new agreement was not place when the current pact expired at midnight this morning - but the moment fans had dreaded came but without either side making a formal announcement.
The sides were so far apart in their discussions that they didn't even meet face-to-face for negotiations on Saturday.
The dispute centres on how to split league revenue worth $3.3 billion (Dh12.1bn).
The NHL, which enjoyed record-breaking revenues last season, initially wanted players to cut their share of hockey-related revenue to 43 per cent from 57 per cent but amended that to a six-year deal that starts at 49 per cent and drops to 47 per cent.
However, the union wants a guarantee that players will receive annually at least the $1.8 billion in salaries paid out last season.
"We spoke today and determined that there was no point in convening a formal bargaining session in light of the fact that neither side is in a position to move off of its last proposal," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement on the league's official website.
"I'm sure we will keep in touch in the coming days and schedule meetings to the extent they might be useful or appropriate. We are sorry for where we are. Not what we hoped or expected."
With memories of the bitter labour dispute that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season still fresh in their minds, frustrated fans appear resigned that the NHL regular season was unlikely to open as scheduled on Oct. 11.
Players were to start reporting to training camps on Sept. 21 but it was now expected that sometime next week Bettman will begin announcing the cancellation of preseason games.
The NHL denied on Saturday that it had plans in place to lay off staff, but should negotiations drag on, the league and teams will inevitably start trimming personnel and expenses.
Players had already begun looking for safe havens to ride out the labour dispute.
NHL Most Valuable Player Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators defenceman Sergei Gonchar were reportedly in Russia practicing with Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League and were expected to suit up for their new teams next week.
The Russian league, which offers attractive salaries, was looming as the destination of choice for many players looking for work but has guidelines in place to ensure teams only opened their doors to the NHL's best.
Sidney Crosby, the NHL's best known and most popular player, had also said if talks stalled he too would explore playing in Europe.
"If you look at both (proposals), yeah they're definitely different," said Crosby. "But if you have a non-bias opinion, you look at the facts, I think our mindset and the direction we're going is one that seems like it's a little bit more fair for both sides.
"I'm a hockey player. I want to keep going," added Crosby.
If the bargaining process followed the same path as before, fans and players could be in for long dreary winter.
After Bettman announced the league was locking out players in 2004 it was three months before the feuding sides even returned to the negotiating table.
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