We couldn't help but chuckle on Thursday afternoon. As we sat around the CBCSports.ca newsroom one of the suits dropped by to inform us that the NHL would cancel the first two weeks of the regular season between 1 and 2 p.m. ET.
Thank you, Captain Obvious. The information was embargoed until the NHL got around to issuing its press release. But still the news ranked right up there with the Toronto Maple Leafs are not Stanley Cup contenders or that Don Cherry guy is outspoken.
The amusing moment, however, wasn't Captain Obvious's appearance. It arrived a few moments after the suit departed, when the Boston Red Sox fired manager Bobby Valentine. There could not have been two more expected developments in the sports world this week than Valentine being sacked and the NHL cancelling games.
Valentine's fate was evident weeks ago. The NHL opening its doors on time had about as much a chance as the Phoenix Coyotes turning a profit. Still, there is no doubt Red Sox fans talked about the Valentine news on Thursday and in Canada, people fretted over the sad state of affairs in the dispute between the NHLPA and NHL.No end in sight
The lockout will turn three weeks old on Saturday, and there is no end in sight for the two sides to end their CBA impasse. Most of us saw this doom and gloom cloud rolling in at the NHL all-star game in Ottawa last January, even though commissioner Gary Bettman wondered out loud why alarm bells already had gone off.
What has the past nine months yielded? Very little. The owners want to significantly reduce players' salaries. The players are not willing to take any immediate pay cut because they gave back too much eight years ago, when the entire NHL season was cancelled.
So the first two weeks, or 82 games, have been lopped off the NHL's docket. If for some reason Miracle on Ice II happens in the next two weeks and a new collective agreement is struck, the games that were cancelled on Thursday could be tacked onto to the end of the season.
Both sides digging in
But don't count on it. The two sides have dug in. To mark the occasion of the cancellation of the first block of NHL games, the two sides released duelling statements. The NHLPA blamed the league, while the NHL refused to become engaged in a war or words.
"The decision to cancel the first two weeks of the NHL season is the unilateral choice of the NHL owners," NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr wrote. "If the owners truly cared about the game and the fans, they would lift the lockout and allow the season to begin on time while negotiations continue.
"A lockout should be the last resort in bargaining, not the strategy of first resort. For nearly 20 years, the owners have elected to lock-out the players in an effort to secure massive concessions. Nevertheless, the players remain committed to playing hockey while the parties work to reach a deal that is fair for both sides. We hope we will soon have a willing negotiating partner."
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly replied with: "We were extremely disappointed to have to make today's announcement. The game deserves better, the fans deserve better and the people who derive income from their connection to the NHL deserve better.
"We remain committed to doing everything in our power to forge an agreement that is fair to the players, fair to the teams and good for our fans. This is not about 'winning' or 'losing' a negotiation. This is about finding a solution that preserves the long-term health and stability of the League and the game. We are committed to getting this done."
A matter of winning or losing
At this point, however, it does appear this is about winning or losing the negotiation. The sides have little common ground and have not exhibited any urgency to face each other and find a starting point. The NHL has stated many times since the lockout began that it's waiting for the NHLPA to make a new proposal. But there is no such plan in the players' playbook at this point. As a result, this stalemate will have a long shelf life.
There is no doubt that if the NHL misses out on its $30-million US windfall otherwise known as the Winter Classic on New Year's Day, the damage will be devastating. But if history teaches us anything, there are other important dates.
- The 1994-95 lockout ended after a 103 days on Jan. 11, 1995. The regular season was shortened to 48 games and ran from Jan. 20 to May 3. Thanks to a bunch of sweeps and short playoff series the New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup on June 24th and avoided a July finish.
- The point of no return for the season to be saved eight years ago was Feb. 16. It would have been Feb. 14, but Louis Sutter, the 73-year-old father of the Sutter brothers, passed away the week before and his funeral was held on the Feb. 15 so the NHL postponed its season-cancelling press conference for a couple days.
So we wait for a sign these negotiations will turnaround. In the meantime, we will find ways to fill the void. We will watch more and more players find places to play in Europe or in the ECHL. We will attend more junior hockey, AHL and Canadian university games.
Hey, where did that suit go? I wonder if he will send me to Switzerland for the Spengler Cup?
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