And so the lockout continues.
The NHL and NHLPA met for four straight days last week in what was obviously to be a crucial week in intense negotiations to reach a deal for a new CBA, starting with the first true sit down meetings in some time that were held in an undisclosed location. It was this sort of secretive activity, which included almost zero information being leaked to the media, that gave many in the media optimism that this could be the turning point in the negotiations.
After all, we were told all along that as soon as negotiations began to take place behind closed doors with little information being presented by those in the media -- that was when things were getting serious. There was so much optimism being built up, especially over Tuesday and into Wednesday, that we here at Defending Big D began to discuss our plans for how to progress forward into the transition back to our actual coverage of -- hell, I don't know -- the Dallas freakin' Stars.
We all know what happened of course, at least those of you still masochistic enough to keep up with the daily coverage of this disaster. Talks began to break down late Thursday that led to an ominous memo sent to the players from Donald Fehr that stated there was still a lot of work to be done, a wide gap in the negotiations to be traversed.
The murmurs of nastiness in the Thursday meetings began to creep into the media world and quickly spread across Twitter. It was then that signs of things falling apart began to become clear because, after all, we were told all along that as soon as the two sides began negotiating through the media again we'd know that things had once again gone south.
Of course, that's exactly what happened.
First, it just so happened that the memo was "leaked" to TSN and NBC Sports' Pro Hockey Talk (which was launched by yours truly, I always like to remember) and suddenly all hope and optimism quickly faded. We had thought things were going well, but here was Donald Fehr lifting his leg all over those good feelings in a memo sent to all of the union members. Then questions about "why" and "how" the memo was leaked arose, which really doesn't matter, as the negotiations between the two sides on Friday began.
And that, my friends, is when I realized just how much Twitter was ruining my life.
I don't know what the "average" hockey fan is like any longer. I've become far removed from the "casual fan" demographic since 1997 or so but over the past four years it seems as if the distance between myself and the Stars fanbase in general has widened significantly. Nearly all of this has to do with this website, launched nearly four years ago, and how those of us here on the staff have completely immersed ourselves into this sport and into the coverage of this franchise.
We have reached a level familiarity with the team and the sport that I never once thought possible. We have an incredible amount of dedicated readers and it's always extremely humbling to meet complete strangers who state how much they love this site. Perhaps the greatest compliment I ever received was when I met a fan at a Stars game who thanked me for providing them with an endless supply of "bathroom reading material."
What this has done has, at least this is how I feel, is created a bit of a distance between us and the "casual fan." It's inevitable; we've certainly become closer to journalists than fans by this point, although I still will never give us that title. We just lie somewhere in between, and I'm certainly fine with that.
The result of this, however, is that we have become extremely personally invested in the lockout and the day to day news flow that has accompanied it. We have a website to populate with content, and we find an incredible amount of satisfaction in providing said content, even while we witness first-hand what I believe to be a path of destruction for the NHL.
We want the lockout to end, not just because it gives us hockey and the Dallas Stars back, but also because with each passing day it feels as if our duty here at Defending Big D becomes increasingly...inconsequential. Most likely not exactly true, but each day we attempt to come up with content throughout this entire mess we're met with a thought process that responds with, "why bother?"
Nevertheless, there I was on Friday and following the incredibly crucial meetings that day between the NHL and NHLPA and hanging on every single tweet by every single member of the media that has some sort of connection to the negotiations. It was immediately clear that was something was wrong, that things were far from going well, as nearly every major hockey journalist was suddenly overwhelmed with "inside information" that they could not wait to put out on Twitter.
I'm not going to get into how Twitter works and how it's altered the sports journalism landscape. Hell, it's completely changed journalism in general. Before Friday, I felt that these changes were for the better. Sure, there's always the rush to be the "first" to get a scoop onto the net but it also raised the amount of information immediately made available to us fans and fellow "journalists."
On Friday, however, I was witness to the abject evil such a medium can inherently possess. And I fell victim to that evil.
It all began when what, looking back on it, was obviously a break in the meetings. Suddenly every major reporter was tweeting about things "not going well" and literally tweeting at each other and "confirming" what the other was reporting. It was this odd circle of journalistic back-patting that felt like it was nothing more than a group of people in a closed room all shouting the same information at each other and then shouting back that they agreed what was being shouted at them in return.
Or something like that.
It's become clear what was happening. Those in the negotiating room, specifically those on the owners' side, were not happy with what was happening and fell back to that old standby of "let's throw some barbs via the media and make it publicly known that the other side are the bad guys." It created an increasing sense of pessimism with the media, who -- after the meetings resumed again and the "leaks" suddenly stopped -- were once again agreeing with others' reports of how bad things were going.
It was that increasingly claustrophobic downward spiral of reporting via Twitter that I couldn't back away from and fell instantly victim to. I was hanging on every tweet, every report of what was happening in the room and for a long afternoon on a Friday I believed everything that was being reported.
Then the bombshell was dropped by Michael Russo, one of the more respected beat writers in hockey, that the NHL was upset with Donald Fehr and the union and intimating that the NHLPA was not being truthful with the players regarding what was happening in the negotiating room.
This assertion was instantly followed up and then "confirmed" by others in the media, which prompted us to quickly write this article late on Friday. After all, this was a major development -- especially if the assertions were accurate. Was Donald Fehr holding vital information from the players, with Fehr possibly wanting to go nuclear on the league and force the NHL to basically start over from scratch in 2013-2014?
Twitter was literally aflame on Friday and the leaks and quotes from "sources" overran the various lists I have on Tweetdeck. What to make of this mess? Was this the turning point?
Quickly, however, it became clear that the truth was far, far from what was being reported. Or possibly somewhere in between.
The players rushed to the defense of the union leader. Fehr attended an impromptu press conference to address how talks had fallen apart and to state that not only had he always been truthful with the players -- but that those contested details in the memo had been intentionally omitted.
Almost as if it was planned all along that the memo would be leaked, to see what the response from the league would be.
Twitter was used and abused that day, taken advantage of by the NHL and the NHLPA who have shown an increasing awareness of which buttons to press in the media to -- instantly -- turn the tide of public opinion in their favor and against the other side. How many times have we changed our mind on who the "bad guy" was in this mess and whose fault it might be for keeping a deal from being made?
The fans, once again, caught in the middle as mere pawns to be moved on a chess board.
This entire lockout has followed this trend and it's created a dynamic where apathy and disgust over this work stoppage has reached an incredible level with the fans -- likely much, much faster than in 2004-05. This isn't just because it's the second lockout in seven years but because, unlike last time, we have this medium with which to read up-to-the-minute updates of labor negotiations between a major sports league and the union.
It's also possible that Twitter has helped contribute to the continuation of this lockout, as it's become absolutely clear that the longer this goes on the more this is about personal feelings and anger and not so much about working together on compromise and reaching a deal.
This lockout has had a dire effect on me, personally. There have been times where I have questioned whether I can continue to operate this website and whether I have the energy and time to devote so much of my life to a sport that has decided that principle and personal feelings outweigh the truth that everyone except the league and the players can see -- with each passing day this league comes closer and closer to destruction.
The NHL is dying a slow death, and the two sides are locked up over contract details and just how much money the players receive in a season that has already been shortened. I have had a first-hand view of this slow death and it's slowly sapped the blogging life out of me.
Meanwhile, hundreds if not thousands of people are going without incredibly important paychecks. These people are not millionaires, they're regular workers who go without that income with each day the league and the union fight over a billion-dollar industry.
At the heart of this mess in Twitter. It has ruined my life, at least during the lockout. Yet I find myself continuing to have it constantly open on my computer, constantly checking it on my phone.
Perhaps I'm not as disillusioned as I feel. Perhaps I'll come roaring back with renewed energy if they do decide to play this season. What I do know is that, for now, I'm not certain how I'll react to the news that the season is canceled -- that hockey probably won't return until the fall of 2013. What happens to this website until then? How do I, and those that write here, adjust our lives that has revolved around hockey, the Dallas Stars and Defending Big D for so long?
I don't know, exactly. I don't know what the answer is. I don't even know if I'm a fan of the NHL any longer. I'm still a die hard Dallas Stars fan, however. I still love the feeling of turning on the television and hearing the voice of Ralph Strangis begin the lead-in to a Stars game. I cherish the feeling of walking into the AAC or looking down upon the ice from the press box.
I feel personally invested in helping rebuild this franchise. I believe that Defending Big D and the great community we have here will be instrumental in accomplishing that task.
For now, however, I'm fed up. I've reached the breaking point.
This is supposed be the year we get to see Jaromir Jagr in a Dallas Stars jersey.
This was going to be the season we see the Stars begin a new journey for the franchise, a movement towards the young talent in the organization.
We were supposed to see Jamie Benn reach a new level, under the tutelage of key veterans in the locker room.
We were going to see the first full season under an actual owner in...years.
This was going to be the year we started rebuilding what had been a passionate and proud fanbase.
Instead, we're following Twitter with minute-by-minute updates of how Bill Daly and Steve Fehr are possibly meeting for lunch -- in a secret location.