Is this the beginning of the end?
I honestly didn't think we'd reach this point. It seemed so close, the NHL and NHLPA joining forces to bridge the gaps between the two sides this week to reach a point where even the most pessimistic believed a deal was on the horizon.
Yet this circus, as it has proven to do time and again, threw everyone for a loop once more.
I'm not going to go into how the whole thing went down, but if you want a really great recap I suggest you read this piece from Nick Cotsonika at Yahoo! Sports. I lived the roller coaster yesterday, I'm not so certain I want to relive it again so soon.
Instead, I want to take a quick step back and look at where we stand and just revel in how absolutely ridiculous this situation is and how shameful it is that the NHL and NHLPA have allowed it to get to this point. Because, to be clear, everyone is to blame at this point.
Too much damage has been done for there to be a "winner" and a "loser."
My heart aches today. My hockey soul has been damaged, as I spent last night wallowing in despair with my wife apparently seriously concerned for my mental well being. I feel as if the NHL has been damaged in my heart to the point of no return; I wonder if I'll ever be able to cheer for these players and this league the same way again.
Yet my anguish is incredibly selfish and self-serving, a product of a very intense hobby that I enjoy that somehow turned into a full-time, non-paying job. My fanaticism for the sport and the NHL drive me and what most of my life is based around; this is why I am so upset over what is happening.
And then I stop and think of the people that are truly affected by this debacle. Those that work for the teams, that work at the arenas and whose businesses depend on the games for survival. For each day this lockout drags on, for each round of cancellations that occur, more and more people are in very real danger of losing their jobs -- middle-class, hard working people that don't have an expensive "rainy day" fund to fall back and who depend on each and every paycheck for their very survival.
This is what hurts me the most.
Shame on the NHL. Shame on Gary Bettman and the league for putting a so-called "take it or leave it" offer on the table in the midst of intense negotiations and then walking away when the NHLPA made what many felt was a legitimate and concessionary offer to the league. What harm would it have done to continue to negotiate? You were getting more concessions from the players, a group who had before outright refused to agree to contract term limits and who wanted a five-year term on the CBA instead of 10. When they meet you halfway, you walk away and claim everything is off the table?
No matter how you might feel about Donald Fehr or how he may be so masterful at pissing you off, there nothing productive about walking away completely once the players wanted him back at the table. The owners are all billionaires that do these negotiations for living; the players have hired Donald Fehr for a very good reason. There is no way a deal would get done without his involvement. Walking away completely when he re-entered the picture, officially, is childish.
How is that supposed to get a deal done?
And shame on Donald Fehr and the NHLPA, for continuing to play games with the heartstrings of the fans in an effort to discredit the NHL. You knew for a fact that the NHL had outright rejected the players' counteroffer yet you stood in front of millions of people on live television, people holding on for some sort of thread of hope, and talked about how dollars had been agreed to a and a deal was relatively close to being done. You knew that was nowhere near the truth and the NHL let you know about it via a voicemail during the press conference.
Shame on both of you for allowing such ancillary issues like player contract rights to derail this entire process. Are these really the issues that you both are going to die on a hill on, to sacrifice the season over and lead to the loss of even more jobs?
How can Bettman and the owners not understand that there is zero part of this newly proposed CBA that is better for the players than the last one? Is it really so tough to understand that the NHLPA just wants something to be able to hold onto and feel as if the offer was now worth making a deal over?
How can the players decide that tempting fate with the owners, by playing this game of moving targets and stalling tactics does nothing but hinder negotiations instead of help it? Whether this is normal negotiations tactics or not, it's clear that the Donald Fehr pushed the owners one time too many and instead of a deal being brokered we're likely looking at another round of games being canceled on Monday.
I even understand the concerns with player contract term limits, spelled out by Tyler Dellow here. But are these issues worth losing it all over?
Shame on both the NHL and NHLPA to allow egos, pride and politics to get in the way of getting a deal done. If reports are indeed true, many in the NHLPA wanted to agree to the NHL's offer but Fehr counseled the players that the NHL had more to give.
Perhaps they do have more to give. After all, Fehr stalled for five more weeks and got $200 million more from the owners as well as a few other concessions. Perhaps this is the thinking, that the owners will give up more if time becomes even more of a factor and nothing more than a 48-game schedule is possible? Meanwhile, the players have already lost hundreds of millions in lost wages and stand to lose more as the lockout drags on.
And after a disaster of a gong show like we witnessed last night, more and more fans are abandoning this sinking ship. I saw a good analogy yesterday, that the NHL and NHLPA seem willing to risk losing the barn in the fire just to save a few pieces of straw.
There is a big part of me that doesn't want a season to happen at this point. I don't think they deserve it, that perhaps this whole thing does need to be blown up. It's probably just emotion talking but the anger and hurt is so deep, it's going to feel very odd to have a season underway after the roller coaster we rode on last night.
But a canceled season means innocent people will be punished. So figure out a deal, get it done soon and get back on the ice. Don't expect a warm welcome when that does happen, however.