Amidst a week full of hopeful hockey fans and intense bargaining was the absence of two key figures: the head of the NHL, commissioner Gary Bettman and the head of the Players’ Association, Donald Fehr.
Earlier in the week, it had been proposed that a handful of players would meet with a few owners without the leaders of their respective sides, Bettman and Fehr. Fans were skeptical, but the two sides met and surprisingly made some headway into the lockout.
And for the first time in what seemed like a month, fans had hope – hope that the NHL season would happen, hope that there would be hockey before the new year, and hope that hockey would exist again in the lives of Americans.
Nevertheless, something went wrong, as always. Therefore, I retract my statement of blaming solely Gary Bettman earlier in the lockout, and I alter it to this:
Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr, it is both of your faults.
The first day of meetings, Tuesday brought good feelings around the league, that the two sides had made some progress in negotiations and found some common ground. As a fan, I was skeptical, just as everyone else. But then, as Tuesday came, and the meetings went late into the night, suddenly things started to seem like they would get better.
There were reports of owners and general managers calling their players overseas and telling them to get ready to come home for training camps. There were reports of a two-week training camp, and that a deal would be reached by the end of the week, allowing for a start around Christmas. There were e-mails sent out to season ticket holders. And most importantly, there was a podium.
The NHL podium stood on a stage, as fans anxiously waited for something to happen with it, but nothing did through Tuesday night. Twitter blew up with users wanting to know about the podium. The hashtag, #PodiumWatch was trending in the United States, and stayed trending into the next morning. Do you think fans want their hockey?
Reports surfaced the next day that the meetings nearly broke apart multiple times the night before, but hard negotiations can do that sometimes. After back and forth proposals that seemed to go on for hours on Wednesday, everyone expected an announcement to come soon. But then they called off the meetings and the two sides decided to meet with their respective groups the next morning.
And then things turned ugly.
Bettman and Fehr joined the negotiations, and all of the feel-good ideas circulating around the NHL world evaporated. As quickly as the two leaders entered the bargaining, the potential disappeared.
The NHLPA asked to bring Federal Mediators in again, the NHL said no. The NHL asked for other things in the CBA, the NHLPA said no. Back and forth it went with proposals until the podium finally played a part!
Fehr stepped to the podium Thursday and contrary to everyone’s expectations, told everyone the opposite of what they wanted to hear. The negotiations had been broken of with no further date.
It is still relatively unclear as to what broke the negotiations off, but the fact of the matter is, the NHL is running out of time for not only this season, but for the league’s success. If the league loses this season because of the egos of these two air-headed leaders, both parties can kiss the record revenue and the majority of the fan bases goodbye. It’s not fair to the players, to the fans, and to the owners that this is dragging on.
The NHL, however, seems to have withdrawn all of their concessions on elements of the CBA because a deal was never reached.
Personally, I believe there is still going to be a season. The fact that the two parties are so unbelievably close on so many issues just doesn’t make sense. The enormous amounts of money that the league could be bringing in is going to be the driving force behind the next round of negotiations, and I think after thinking about how badly they are ruining the league, the two sides will reach an agreement and have a modified season of 50-60 games.
The sooner this gets done, the better, and the sooner hockey can continue growing in America and setting record revenue – things that cannot be done while the league is in a lockout.