The Mayans had their doomsday calendar.
Now, the National Hockey League does, too.
January 15. No one expects this date will mark the end of the world as we know it, but it could be the end of the NHL as we’ve come to relish it in recent, bountiful seasons if a new CBA is not reached.
On the very day before the Mayan Dec. 21 apocalyptic date, the NHL chose to establish its own version of a doomsday. With games cancelled through Jan. 14, the expectation is that there will be no further extensions, as the NHL has made it clear it is not going to wait until February as it did before cancelling the 2004-05 season.
If nothing else, the participants have more or less established a drop-dead date for this ongoing nonsense of posturing and intermittent talks. By mid-January, there will either be a new collective bargaining agreement in place, or the next step will be to cancel the entire season.
So there it is: Game On! Or season Off.
Who among you would bet the family dwelling, the childrens’ college funds and entire life savings on the prospects of a deal getting done by the ides of January?
And yet, both the NHL, represented by commissioner Gary Bettman and Bill Daly and the players’ camp, headed by former MLB union chief Donald Fehr, continue to insist they want to play. As recently as Wednesday, Daly told the Hockey Night In Canada radio show that he believed a deal would get done.
Of course, interviewer Elliotte Friedman prefaced the question by taking away the option for Daly to utter, “I hope so,” or “I want to believe so.”
Thus, Daly was forced to say “yes” or “no.” He said, “yes.” And that isn’t worth a lot at the bank considering how he would been vilified if he’d predicted no season at all in the New Year.
So, in lieu of daily box scores, we have these stats: The NHL has now cancelled 625 games, or more than half (50.8 per cent) of the originally scheduled 1230 hockey dates for the 2012-13 season, which was supposed to begin way back on Oct. 11.
Stop and think about that for a second. In a season of calamity and bizarre dysfunction between the NHL and the players’ association, it is easy to forget the nuts and bolts of 625 games cancelled, hundreds of club or ancillary business staff out of work, others working a reduced week for reduced pay.
Six-hundred-and-twenty-five unique celebrations of the game. Hockey families and organizations dressed up to stage a show for thousands of spectators anticipating edge-of-seat action from the world’s greatest hockey players. All of it, gone to this point. Wiped out.
Some marketing experts suggest the NHL “brand” has been damaged to a degree not yet seen in professional sport.
Now, the best that can be hoped for is a 48-game season — a patchwork, in-conference schedule.
If Jan. 15 seems far away, it is not. In a blink, New Year’s Day will be here, and to reach an agreement by mid-January means having something in the works several days before that. At the moment, the two sides are not even talking, a holding pattern has emerged while the NHLPA gathers its player vote on whether or not to disband the union.
If two thirds vote in favour, the players could seek to challenge the legality of the lockout in court. Unions for the NBA and NFL players took similar action, which led to agreements.
Anticipating such a move, the league launched its own class-action complaint against the players in a New York court supporting the league’s contention that the lockout is quite legal, thank you very much. The players have until Jan. 7 to respond to that filing.
The hope is that the visible target of a firm deadline might get the protagonists out of court and into a negotiating room, where they can divide revenues somewhat equally and agree on the length of the CBA and future player contracts. Miracles do happen in sport, even in boardrooms.
In other news, a report reminds us that the city would like to play host to an outdoor Winter Classic vs. the Montreal Canadiens to coincide with Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations in 2017.
Hmmm. 2017. The NHL lockout could well be over by then.
Wonder how many of the current 30 NHL clubs will still be in the picture?