We are at the end of our optimism rope with the NHL. League officials cancelled a new slate of games today and have, essentially, set an unofficial drop-dead date for the lockout talks. If a deal isn't reached by Jan. 14, there won't be any pro hockey this season — period. 

The negotiations between the league and the player's union have not been going well. Substanial negotiations haven't gone down in two weeks, and there aren't plans to restart negotiations anytime soon. So, when the NHL announced the cancellation of games through January 14 today, it became difficult for us to imagine a scenario where we see hockey before September 2013, at the earliest. 

As The Sporting News' Sean Gentille explains, a deal needs to go into effect before that next round of cancellations expires, or else: 

There isn't an official "drop-dead" date for the 2011-12 season, but realistically, this is the last round of cancellations before the big one; commissioner Gary Bettman has said that a schedule of less than 48 games isn't a real option, and deputy commissioner Bill Daly said that mid-January would be the latest possible agreement point on a new collective bargaining agreement.

It doesn't get more "mid-January" than Jan. 14.

It's amazing to think they could let another season slip through the cracks when this lockout is seen as a monumentally stupid P.R. disaster for the league. But, then again, this is the kind of league we're dealing with here: