The NHL canceled what little was left of the season Wednesday after a series of last-minute offers were rejected on the final day of negotiations.
A lockout over a salary cap shut down the game before it ever got a chance to start in October. Now the NHL, already low on the popularity scale in the United States, becomes the first major pro sports league in North America to lose an entire season to a labor dispute.
``As I stand before you today, it is my sad duty to announce ... it no longer is practical to conduct even an abbreviated season,'' commissioner Gary Bettman said. ``Accordingly, I have no choice but to announce the formal cancellation of play for 2004-05.''
``This is a sad, regrettable day that all of us wish could have been avoided,'' he said.
Bettman said the sides would continue working to get an agreement.
``We're planning to have hockey next season,'' he said.
The union scheduled a news conference later Wednesday in Toronto.
``The scary part now for hockey is do the fans come back? We're not baseball, we're not the national pastime,'' Nashville forward Jim McKenzie said.
The league and players' union traded a flurry of proposals and letters Tuesday night, but could never agree on a cap. The players proposed $49 million per team; the owners said $42.5 million.
``We weren't as close as people were speculating,'' Bettman said.
This will be the first time the Stanley Cup isn't awarded since 1919 when a flu epidemic forced the finals to be called off. There was a lockout in 1994-95 that ended in time for teams to play 48 games, still more than half the regular season.
``We profoundly regret the suffering this has caused our fans, our business partners and the thousands of people who depend on our industry for their livelihoods,'' Bettman said.
``If you want to know how I feel, I'll summarize it in one word -- terrible,'' he said.
Before Monday, the idea of a salary cap was a deal-breaker for the players' association but the union gave in and said it would accept one when the NHL dropped its insistence that there be a link between revenues and player costs.
That still wasn't enough to end the lockout that started on Sept. 16 and ultimately wiped out the entire 1,230-game schedule and the playoffs.
The NHL's last game came in June, when the Tampa Bay Lightning beat Calgary 2-1 in Game 7 to win the Stanley Cup.
Since then, a lot of stars have moved on, going overseas to play. Jagomir Jagr, Vincent Lecavalier, Teemu Selanne, Joe Thornton and Saku Koivu are among those who went to Europe.
For other older players, such as Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier and Dominik Hasek, the cancellation puts their careers in limbo.