NHL Fans: "Together We Can." -- Be sure to watch this video first.
Last week, talks between the NHL and the NHLPA in the current CBA negotiations broke off when neither side could find common ground on which to attempt to move forward and work toward an agreement. Forget the actual details involved in the talks; it doesn't matter what each side wants, the only thing that counts at this point is that neither side is willing to compromise at this point in time.
With that revelation, the inevitability of an impending lockout came closer to becoming a reality on Sept. 15 when the current CBA expires. A lockout at that date likely means an extended work stoppage heading into the season and at the very least a season that at the earliest would begin in November.
Even a small amount of delay to the season is an absolute insult and slap in the face of the fans of this league and both sides are to blame. While the owners may be winning the PR battle, it's become clear that the fans are once again mere pawns in a game that no one seems to be in a hurry to win.
The video above is perhaps the best summation of my feelings when the news came down that talks had broken off, with Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman deciding that Friday afternoon was the time to start firing shots across the bow at one another.
And the fans are caught in the middle.
It's ironic that one of the major reasons for the financial strife in the current negotiations and at the heart of the disagreement between both sides is the fact that the league is experiencing record revenue and economic growth.
The league is posting financial numbers of the like when they have never seen before and used that growth to broker an incredibly lucrative television contract with NBC Sports, which only serves to further grow and expand the sport.
Because of this, the players are refusing to budge on the notion of a significant cut in salaries. The league, meanwhile, is claiming the current infrastructure of the NHL is unsustainable with only the top 6-8 teams in the league really putting up the overall numbers that make the financial status of the league seem so good.
The owners, apparently, are also caught in a battle amongst themselves with the top teams refusing to provide further assistance to the teams that might be struggling -- instead asking the players to take up that burden.
In the end, it all comes down to pure greed over who gets the bigger slice of a pie that is growing exponentially year by year.
And the only ones we can really blame for this is ourselves, the fans.
After all, it was the fans who flocked back to the league following the 2004-05 lockout in record numbers. We believed that the lost season that year was but a painful memory of a time without hockey, a time when the absolute worst scenario played itself out and one that both the players and the owners claimed would never happen again.
We were told the new system was one that worked and was helping to grow the league.
We were told that the changes made would help to lower ticket prices and make the game more accessible to those that can't afford to go to as many games as we'd like.
Instead, we're finding out that suddenly the system is not sustainable and that the league is struggling -- no matter what the numbers say.
Ticket prices have skyrocketed 40 percent since 2004-05, a product of supply and demand but also a product of broken promises and false assurances.
Meanwhile, fans are buying merchandise in record numbers. We're buying those ever-expensive tickets despite the rising costs, with the teams boasting the most expensive tickets in the league failing to deliver on the ice again and again and again.
The teams that are earning the most are not spending their money wisely and suddenly we're told the rules must be changed to protect the owners from themselves. Craig Leipold, just months after stating that the Wild could not afford to keep up with rest of the NHL in spending, signed two players to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts.
Just a few months later, Leipold is part of a group of owners asking the players to take a significant rollback on the contracts they just awarded.
The players, meanwhile, are focused on standing together against this tyranny. While the owners indeed want to cut back salaries the fact remains that the rollback would bring the players to an average salary that is still better than what the players were facing coming out of the 2004-05 lockout.
While fans and the media certainly seem to be on the side of the players, it's now apparent that it is not just the NHL that has been the one using the impending lockout as leverage in negotiations.
The players have stalled negotiations under the guise of "continued communication" at times while inferences from agents have implied that players are more than willing to extend negotiations to Oct. 11, when escrow payments will ease the pain of missed game checks from the beginning of a delayed season.
This is the only leverage the players have, the ability to hold out through the first part of a lockout and put the public pressure on the league to get a deal done. Most owners can afford to wait and it seems the players are willing to wait it out as well.
Once again, the ones that truly pay the price are the fans.
The ones whose only crime is the continued support of the sport and league they love.
The ones who have driven these record profits and revenues by their dedication and fanaticism despite the lack of true national awareness of the sport, especially when it comes to national television.
The ones who, we are told, can do nothing to affect the inevitability of the impending lockout.
The ones who feel personally hurt, insulted and angry over the notion that yet again a lockout is looming where part or the whole of a season will be lost.
The ones that Gary Bettman has said will come flocking back, once more, after a lockout because the fans are blind sheep who have already proven once before that a lost season won't affect the growth of the league.
Our focus should be on the actual sport, what is happening on the ice. It's why we spend our money and dedicate so much of our time to something that brings us only pure emotion and no financial gain, only loss.
Both sides are pointing the finger at each other with the fans caught in the middle. Forget picking a side and deciding who is right when it is clear that both sides are in the wrong, forcing the fans to once again miss the sport they love with the pain of a lost season still weighing on all of our hearts.
That's a wound that has yet to fully heal and yet, it seems, we are ever closer to ripping that wound open once more. This time, unfortunately, I wonder if this wound would prove to be irrevocably fatal.