OK, so maybe I haven’t learned to love the NHL lockout, but I have learned to stop worrying so much about it. I mean why should I – just a lowly fan – be worried about the NHL season being cancelled when it is abundantly clear that Gary Bettman, the owners, Donald Fehr and the players aren’t at all worried.
Even though all parties involved knew that the prior collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was set to expire on September 15th of this year, the two sides didn’t even bother meeting for the first time until June 29th. The NHL owners didn’t bother putting their first offer on the table (a wholly ridiculous non-starter) until July 13th and the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) didn’t bother putting their first offer on the table (an equally ridiculous non-starter) until August 14th.
Neither side engaged in reality based discussions before the CBA expired on September 15th triggering the current lockout. Just four days later the NHL cancelled its first games, two weeks later that NHL cancelled its first regular season games. 526 cancelled regular season games later the lockout is still on.
As troubling as the 526 lost games has been the complete and total lack of interest in either side in ending this work stoppage. The truth is that unlike the last NHL lockout, which involved the owners’ demands for a salary cap, the issues at play in this work stoppage have never involved dramatic structural overhauls to the game.
From the very beginning of this fight we as hockey fans have been told that this was all about money – about how to divide up the pie between the owners and the players. Amazingly, the two sides have largely come to an agreement on a 50/50 split of hockey related revenues (a place everyone in the world knew was the split we would eventually end up with) and yet the lockout continues to drag on.
Not only does the lockout drag on, but both sides have played out public relations campaigns that are better situated for the set of a third rate soap opera than as part of any serious negotiation. Bettman, Fehr and others involved routinely engage in dramatics you would expect from a 12 year old school girl and public pissing matches that leave most hockey fans wondering where are the adults?
With all of hockey for 2012 lost – constituting roughly half of all games scheduled, the Winter Classic cancelled and the All Star game cancelled, with both sides losing money every single day this drags on and with the sport bleeding fans why don’t we have a deal yet? Simply put – because neither side wants one [yet].
There are two reasonable explanations for this lack of interest in a deal: 1. Both sides are so dug in to their positions and so unwilling to compromise that they are willing to lose the entire season OR 2. Both sides are being led by guys who are hell bent on getting the absolute best possible deal from their perspective and won’t make a deal until they absolutely have to do so.
While it is possible that the two sides have decided that the remaining issues (mostly involving the length of the CBA, contract length and back-diving contracts) are issues that constitute “hills” they are “willing to die on” (since that ridiculous phrase is now the phrase du jour in the lockout) I don’t think this is likely. As I mentioned earlier, even the really big issues in this lockout (like the split of hockey related revenues) were never the kind of dramatic structural changes to the game that would be worth losing a season over – and at this point the big issues are essentially settled.
That leaves explanation number 2: that both sides are led by guys who won’t make a deal until they absolutely have to do so. Bettman and the NHL have said that a 48 game season is basically the shortest season possible. Any hypothetical 48 game season would need to start by early to mid-January. Assuming you would need at least two weeks between the announcement of an agreement and the start of the regular season (for final ratification, getting players back to the US, training camp) the timeline for you absolutely must make a deal is mid to late December.
Essentially, if both sides are committed to waiting until the 11th hour to make a deal to end this lockout, it’s about 10:59 right now.
I don’t know when exactly this lockout will end and I unfortunately expect more of the emotional roller coaster and shenanigans that have been the hallmarks of this work stoppage. I do know that if the owners and players don’t seem to be worried about losing the season than neither am I. Like I said, maybe I haven’t learned to love the lockout, but I have learned to stop worrying (or at least worrying as much).