The NHL today cancelled its 2012 preseason through September 30 as the league’s lockout continues after its union pact with players expired Saturday at midnight. More cancellations are expected as the labor unrest drags on, and no talks on a new collective bargaining agreement have been scheduled. NBC Sports, which signed a record $2 billion, 10-year TV rights deal with the NHL last year, remained neutral in the wake of the news, saying in a statement:

“We are hopeful that the lockout is resolved soon and does not affect our NHL programming. However, if games are missed, we have a large amount of quality live-event programming available to replace them, including soccer, boxing, and college hockey and basketball.”

The regular season begins October 11 with NBC Sports Network airing a doubleheader, and broadcasting the New York Rangers-LA Kings (that’s the defending Stanley Cup champion LA Kings) game the next night. NBC begins its 2012-2013 coverage with a Rangers-Boston game November 23. But all that seems to be in trouble now: This week key players have been signing deals to play overseas during the stoppage, and the NHL reportedly told staff that there will be a 20% pay reduction among other cutbacks beginning October 1, suggesting the league is primed to dig in for a fight over a new deal in which revenue sharing is the biggest obstacle.<

This is the third major pro sport to impose a work stoppage in the last 18 months, behind the NFL and NBA, and the fourth NHL shutdown since 1992 — including a year-long dispute that forced the cancellation of the entire 2004-2005 season, when the league successfully held out for a salary cap.