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Correction to This Article
A Feb. 17 Sports article incorrectly said that Canada has five National Hockey League franchises. There are six teams: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa. Also, a graphic referred to Buffalo Sabres player James Patrick as Patrick James.
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NHL Season Put on Ice

Though the sides appeared only $6.5 million apart on a salary cap, that number multiplied across 30 teams is nearly $200 million, which Bettman said would have continued to cause the league to lose money. He said that even at $42.5 million, NHL owners collectively probably would have lost money for at least two more years, although some stability may have been achieved beyond that.

"The judgment we made was we would . . . take the economic risk of agreeing to a fixed cap unrelated to revenues. But there was only so much of that risk that we were prepared to absorb," Bettman said. "And the higher the number got, the bigger the risk got. . . . We couldn't be in the 50s or the high 40s."

With the cancellation of the NHL season, hockey fans will not be filling MCI Center anytime soon. (Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)

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Capitals Section

NHL Players' Association Executive Director Bob Goodenow said the players compromised on a number of fronts, including a 24 percent across-the-board rollback on all existing player contracts that would have saved owners $500 million over two years and $1 billion in the long run.

"We have said before that they do not want to earn a dollar more than they are worth," Goodenow said yesterday. "The players wanted to reach a fair agreement, but they never had a negotiating partner."

This is the third work stoppage for the NHL, which postponed 30 games because of a 10-day strike in 1992. Owners locked out the players over labor differences for 103 days in 1994-95, which cut the regular season from 84 games to 48. The league was able to bounce back and still mount a credible Stanley Cup race, but the loss of an entire season could be far worse for the already-hobbled NHL, which has struggled with a minuscule television audience in the United States and growing fan apathy. That returns to the original question: What's next?

"The game is a mess right now," said Jeff Halpern, a member of the Washington Capitals.

And while both sides dig in for another standoff, a third party can do nothing but watch.

"The fans are still left holding their hands in the air, wondering what's next," said Doug Sitler, a Buffalo, N.Y.,-based fan who has organized a campaign to express the fans' frustration during the lockout. "Both players and owners have been preparing for this lockout for years. . . . I think they will play hockey next year, but with some major changes. I think a lot of players will break with the union and play hockey next year. The owners are going to bust the union. The players are in a no-win situation. The owners have to take drastic measures with 20 of the teams losing money."

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