Over the weekend, the calendar crossed over into September. That means less than two weeks currently sit between now and “doomsday” for the National Hockey League and its fans. The current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire on September 15th.
The two sides have reached an impasse and are only at the economic stage of talks. That means that even if they can agree on the financials, there are still other issues that need to be sorted out. But you have to figure after they get through salaries and revenue sharing, the rest should be a breeze.
However, that type of progress would require negotiation, which has been put on hold after talks broke down towards the end of last week. And rather than hire some sort of mediator like the NFL did during their labor dispute last summer, both sides seem content to sit and sulk and flash dirty looks at the other side.
At this point, a lockout looks like a certainty. Gary Bettman and the owners seem to welcome the idea, especially since they stand to take home a boatload of cash regardless of whether there’s hockey or not. That doesn’t necessarily mean an entire season will be lost, though.
It’s highly unlikely that the season will start on time, barring some last second change of heart from either side that allows a new CBA to be pretty much set by September 15th. But I do think each side realizes the potential damage of another lockout. Even Gary Bettman, as smug as he acts, has to feel uneasy over a potential third stoppage during his tenure as NHL commissioner.
ESPN’s John Buccigross also raised another interesting point in regard to this whole lockout thing: social media. Twitter and Facebook weren’t around in 2004, but with so many players taking part of the Twittersphere these days, public opinion has the potential to continue to lean even harder to the side of the players than it already has. It’s not a major factor, but it’s likely a factor in the back of the owners’ collective minds, nonetheless.
My optimism is not as prevalent as it was a few weeks ago. But I’d still expect to see hockey this season. It may not be in October, but I do believe that both sides realize there is too much at risk, and the game has come too far since the last one, to risk ruining all of that with another stoppage.
As fans struggle with the idea of another lockout, it’s something to keep in mind. An NHL lockout is likely, but it doesn’t automatically spell the end of the NHL until the end of 2013.