The National Hockey League's (NHL) lockout claimed its first casualties as the league said on Wednesday it cancelled the first week of preseason games given the absence of a collective bargaining agreement.
The NHL, in the midst of its fourth work stoppage in 20 years, said in a statement that the preseason set to open on Sept. 23 is cancelled through Sept. 30, chopping 60 games off the schedule.
A league-wide lockout was imposed by the NHL on the weekend when the previous labor agreement expired with the owners and players at odds over how to divide a $3.3 billion revenue pie.
There have been no formal talks between NHL owners and the union representing its players since last Wednesday, leaving the scheduled Oct. 11 start of the 2012-13 season in doubt.
The work stoppage is the first in the NHL since a lockout wiped out the entire 2004-05 campaign, and the upcoming season could see the same fate as the two sides remain at a stalemate over key economic issues.
The NHL, which enjoyed record-breaking revenues last season, is looking to cut the players' share in revenue while players are against taking an immediate, absolute salary reduction.
The cancellations come amid unconfirmed reports that the NHL will cut employee salaries by 20 percent and institute a four-day work week starting Oct. 1.
At the same time, the flood of players rushing to find work in European leagues is expected to grow with no end in site to the work stoppage.
Reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP) Evgeni Malkin and former scoring champion and MVP Alex Ovechkin head the list of big-name NHL players who have already signed deals to play in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.
New Jersey Devils sniper Ilya Kovalchuk and Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk also returned home to Russia while Rick Nash of the New York Rangers and Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators were among those opting for the Swiss league. (Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)