By and large, those of us who work in and around hockey are a cheery, hopeful bunch.
And so when an NHL broadcaster was asked on the radio airwaves Monday morning how quickly the league could get back to business in the event of an end to this seemingly endless lockout, he optimistically suggested: Dec. 26.
This is how the hockey mind works, when logic dictates that THIS is surely the week NHL owners and players come to their senses and resolve their petty contract and revenue issues. Just as last week was supposed to be (and what a week that was), and the week before that. A deal gets done, the players take part in a short training camp, and the NHL picks up the pieces of a broken season in a few weeks time.
The masochists who regularly monitor the slings and arrows of this outrageous lockout, to twist the Bard’s words, are forever seeing silver linings. Even after the NHL on Monday announced the cancellation of two more weeks of the schedule, through to Dec. 30, many hockey media steadfastly tweeted that a deal would still get done. A partial season would yet be saved.
In response to the latest cancellations — for a total now of 526 games in all, or 43 per cent of the 2012-13 schedule — USA Today hockey writer Kevin Allen penned a blog outlining Five Reasons Why There Will Be an NHL Season. The gist of it is that the two sides are too close to a deal, too aware of the disastrous consequences, if the season is cancelled. Most observers share that view.
The cancellation news was inevitable, but still a kick to the chops of those who still care about the NHL coming back at all, a shrinking populace, just beyond the gates of those who make their living around the game. Last weeks’s theatric off-Broadway collapse of CBA negotiations was the final straw for many hockey loyalists, sucked in by the feel-good meetings between a group of owners and players on Tuesday, minus the protagonists, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA boss Donald Fehr. By the next day and the next after that, it was business as usual, the two sides dug in and annoyed with each other.
The fans who still care were hoping that no news on Friday about game cancellations meant Bettman saw the prospects for a deal, soon. Yet again, those who dared be optimistic were crushed like ice crystals on local roads. Sixteen more days of games dropped. And what a slate they represented to hockey fans in Ottawa.
Say goodbye, Senators fans, to the Dec. 15 visit by the Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings. Say goodbye to Claude Giroux and the Philadelphia Flyers coming here on Dec. 23 … to the provincial rival Toronto Maple Leafs on the 28th and the Detroit Red Wings on the 29th. In other words, the league just spiked one of the best holiday schedules around here in recent memory.
So, should we also say goodbye to the entire 2012-13 regular season — or cling to the hope that we’ll “take a cup of kindness yet,” for Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve? How’s that for cutting it close? Only 24 hours are left to keep the 2012-2013 NHL season from becoming “the 2013 season.”
For starters, forget about seeing a Western Conference team like the Kings here, or the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames or San Jose Sharks, all scheduled to be in Ottawa in January or February. A 48-game schedule, which is the smallest number the league would resort to, says Bettman, would almost certainly eliminate games between conferences to reduce travel in a compacted schedule.
Things we never thought we’d see: The NHL goes on the 100 Mile Diet.
As much as a growing number of fans are saying they don’t care any more, the NHL is liable to strike a deal with its players at the very moment the multitudes have given up on NHL hockey. While the NHL was cancelling that string of games between Dec. 14 and Dec. 30, reports began to circulate that the two sides were expecting to meet and talk this week. It’s come down to this — pick your poison, NHL. Stage a reduced season, and take an ENORMOUS hit from angry fans and sponsors. Or cancel the season and take an ENORMOUS hit … it won’t likely get decided until the final deadline, sometime in January.
At this point, it’s hard to know if fans would react better to a sham of a season or none at all — with months of time for the league to get its damned CBA done and try to restore some faith in the game.
As ever, the best strategy is to avoid dwelling on the daily roller-coaster of negotiations, non-negotiations and emotional swings.
As Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik told reporters in Pittsburgh on Monday, “trying to draw some kind of conclusion as to when it’s going to be over, I think you drive yourself crazy.”
To which many fans say, “been there, done that.”