Mixed prospects for a partial NHL season

That awful empty feeling. Photo: chrissthegirl, CC some rights reserved

It’s a trying time to be a hockey fan.

As David Sommerstein reported in mid-October, a stand-off between owners and players has lead to no games and frustrations galore.

CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada has been a cultural institution dating back to TV broadcasts in 1952. (And radio broadcasts before that, starting in 1931.)

Straight-man Ron MacLean is the current host – along with frequently controversial Don Cherry, of “Coach’s Corner” fame.

Love him or hate him, Cherry is known Canada-wide for his critics-be-damned opinions and his flamboyant (eye-popping?) suits.

Speaking Thursday on CBC’s Metro Morning radio show with host Matt Galloway Cherry had this to say about the current impasse:

“If I’m betting, I’d say no [NHL season]”

In the same interview, Cherry says criticism of NHL commissioner Gary Betttman is misplaced:

“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “[The owners] had a vote at the start… 30 said yes [to the] lockout. It wasn’t Bettman. If they had said no lockout, there wouldn’t have been a lockout. He’s the guy everybody goes after, it’s ridiculous. If 20 owners walked up to him right now and said ‘we’re going back,’ they’d go back.”

By Friday another shoe dropped: the feel-good, “heritage” event of the season – the Winter Classic – was cancelled.

Though it only began in 2008, the outdoor game would would have featured the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings – the first time a Canadian team played. This was all set for Jan 1 2013 at Ann Arbour’s Michigan Stadium (AKA “The Big House”) where it had been hoped the game would set an attendance record.

ESPN called the development “the darkest day yet” in this year’s bleak prospects and detailes why the game was a really big deal for all participants in this article.

But that’s now a write-off.

The owner of the Ottawa Senators, Eugene Melnyk, made the news earlier in the week – and most likely got himself into hot water with NHL officials – with comments made on Toronto radio station The Fan 590. (Owners are not authorized to comment on negotiations.) As reported by the Ottawa Citizen:

“I’m extremely disappointed, like any fan, of where we are,” Melnyk said. “We should be playing hockey by now. Everybody knows it, and we’re not. Everybody can fingerpoint all they want, but at the end of the day, I don’t think anybody cares who’s at fault. All they know if we’re not playing hockey, why aren’t we playing hockey?”

No less than President Barack Obama has said much the same thing. As reported in the Washington Post, on an Oct 24th appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, he reminded owners and players of their debt to hockey fans and ended with: “Y’all should be able to figure this out. Get this done.”

In the glimmer-of-hope department, according to an Associated Press report on CBC, tentative talks were re-opened on Saturday:

For the first time since Oct. 18, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and players’ association special counsel Steve Fehr agreed to meet at a secret location Saturday afternoon. The two have been talking by phone during the week and found enough common ground to get together face-to-face.

This post was begun Friday morning and has needed updates all weekend long. Early Sunday morning the lastest word was that Saturday’s talks went on past midnight. According to USA Today:

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHL Players’ Association special counsel Steve Fehr were still talking in an undisclosed location as Saturday turned to Sunday. That is a big change from past meetings, when the sides met at either of the headquarters, talked briefly and held news conferences afterward.

According to David Pagnotta, editor in chief of the Fourth Period (“Hockey’s Lifestyle Magazine”):

This should be an intriguing weekend for everyone connect to the sport. If you’re a hockey fan, you’ll want to pay attention.

For those who care, what do you think? Can the owners and players resolve their dispute in time to salvage a partial season?

If not, will a lost season detract from your interest in that sport?

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3 Comments on “Mixed prospects for a partial NHL season”

  1. Pete Klein says:

    This is insane, especially on the part of the owners.

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  2. Cherry is definitely right. Bettman is now some neutral arbiter. He is hired by the owners and works for the owners. But as the commish, he is the lightning rod. He knew that going in.

    As with most of these disputes, I blame the owners. If one of them can’t afford to offer someone a $6 mil a year contract, then the solution is simple: don’t offer them that much money! You don’t need a collective bargaining agreement to tell you to lower your salary expenses. You just need a little discipline.

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  3. CJ says:

    Hard to feel sorry for millionaire owners and millionaire players. The people I feel sorry for are the folks who work in support. Vendors, businesses in the area who provide services, business who depend on the fans to buy merchandise and so on. Much like the brain trust in congress who are economically secure but make decisions on party lines that hurt people of modest means.

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