I have long since abandoned hope that this season is going to actually happen.
That whole thing started when I wrote a column for Puck Daddy saying I was somewhat optimistic that, given the frequency with which both sides of the labor battle were meeting prior to the NHLPA’s counterproposal — and that only came after a prolonged period of retiring to their respective corners and staring angrily at each other while firmly not-negotiating anything at all — and like three days later there was some sort of public pissing match. In retrospect I should have thought the league would swat that offer down as being far too logical and therefore unacceptable, like Dikembe Mutombo in his prime.
And the disgust on both sides seemed only to mount in the days leading up to and indeed immediately following the expiration of this past, dearly departed collective bargaining agreement. Now were Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr not only glowering at each other in meeting rooms, they were both throwing up their hands to the media like, “Do you believe I have to deal with this friggin’ guy? He’s being TOTALLY unreasonable!”
And so it was that the sides haven’t met in quite a while. There was kind of no point to it, if you want to be really pragmatic about it. Here’s how that kind of meeting would go:
“Hey Gary how are you?”
“I’m fine, Don. Say, just to satisfy my own curiosity, are you budging on that old framework of the cap and hockey-related revenue under your new proposal?”
“No Gary, we’re not. In fact, we think if you ju…”
“Okay, well see ya later then. You guys know the way out, right?”
But then word came yesterday that the two sides would, oh man, they’d actually meet this week. Friday, to be exact. Wow, thought hockey fans, actual progress. Then it was further revealed what that late-week meeting would be about: non-financial issues in the next CBA. Just as quickly as people got their hopes up for meaningful progress, their hopes were dashed. Tim Wharnsby and many others characterized the meetings as essentially being “no big deal.” And they would know. They’re real plugged in for this kind of thing.
Nonetheless, it should be said that progress, and progress of any kind at this point, is something that ought to be welcomed. Friday’s meetings will be the first formal convening between the two sides since the lockout began. And while certainly they’re not going to also casually hammer out the billion-dollar gap in their two widely-varying proposed CBAs while trying to figure out how to schedule games and the ways in which Brendan Shanahan will be able to mete out supplemental discipline for the next few years, they’ll likely be able to reach some agreements on some things that impact the day-to-day business of the league and the players.
That’s not nothing.
This is, we’re told constantly by everyone on both sides and also in the media and on Twitter and by the guy down the street who wears tank tops in January, a long process. There’s not going to be a resolution next week or the week after or the week after that. It is, in hockey parlance, a total gong show. But I don’t buy that just because they’re not talking about The Money that these meetings are meaningless. I mean, this is stuff that would need to be worked out after the money was dealt with anyway, if that was the way both sides chose to approach it, right? You couldn’t have a completed CBA without laying down hammering out those sticky medical and travel arrangements Bettman was banging on about the day before the lockout began. So I’ll take this because it’s better than the alternative Cold War we’ve been living with.
To be fair, I don’t know what’s wrong with me, and I wouldn’t say I’m optimistic, but it seems to me if these two sides that have been all pissed off for the better part of two and a half months are getting in the same room to talk about anything, that’s a step in the right direction. The issues being discussed might be as heavy as revenue sharing, as “no big deal” as how training camps will work next time out, or as outright trivial as who’s going to win on the Bachelorette this season. At least they’re talking. Talking leads — IN THEORY AT LEAST — to understanding, right? If these pave the way, and turn out to be the START I talks, how is that bad?
So no, nothing discussed Friday will actually lead us anywhere appreciably closer to having NHL hockey back in our lives. Feel free to hunker down for a while and see if you can find any illegal KHL streams to watch. Go read a book. Hit the gym. Neither side’s budging for a few months at least. But one meeting is more likely to lead to another than no meetings, unless Fehr flips a table over and puts Bill Daly in a headlock. You just know he’s got that old-man strength. Gotta watch out for that.
Again, I’m hedging my bets and assuming this season is gonna be toast — call it an artifact of all the player propaganda to that end — but hey, maybe not? I gotta take what hope I can get.