NHL Cancellations Don't Mean Armageddon Just Yet


The chances of seeing NHL hockey in 2012 are “Nicole Ritchie slim”.  With a fresh batch of cancellations, the NHL has ruled out any hockey before the final day of the year. While New Year’s Eve hockey would be incredibly entertaining, it would take a minor miracle for the NHL and NHLPA to sign a CBA before the New Year. The deadline for signing a deal that would allow NHL hockey on the 31st of December would most likely be Monday the 17th. Unless something is happening behind closed doors that the media is unaware of, some positive major developments would have to take place in the next couple of days.  And consider how closely the media is covering any meetings between the two sides.  I think there was even a headline the other day on Donald Fehr’s difficult bowel movement following lunch at Mighty Taco.

Reports have it that if the NHL season were to start by December 31st,  a 54-game season would still be a possibility. Gary Bettman has already issued the statement that an NHL season in 2012-2013 season must be at least 48 games to be legitimate. This despite the fact that a 28-game season was put on the table in 2005.

This places the infamous “drop dead” date somewhere in the middle of January, as the 48-game 1995 season began on January 20th. Evidently, this will put plenty of pressure on the Players Association in the upcoming weeks, as they can now predict the apocalypse. Donald Fehr will be put under intense pressure by his constituency to get a deal done.

What does this mean for the negotiations? Cancellations are definitely never a positive for neither fans nor players. They indicate a major division in negotiations and little hope in the immediate future. They can also be interpreted as a major statement being made by NHL officials.

But is this latest group of cancellations enough to indicate that the end is near? Should hockey fans finally accept that the season is over? Any hockey fan that hopes to keep some fraction of sanity should have already accepted the major possibility of a year without hockey.  And many fringe fans have long since packed it in.

Yet, there is hope. The cancellation of games, and a “drop dead” date, which is increasingly clear, will only intensify talks between the PA and the NHL. Those talks broke off dramatically last week, but we are already hearing rumblings that future talks are being planned.

Donald Fehr’s next move will be intriguing. In terms of “numbers”, the NHL and NHLPA should be close, however, it appeared that trust was deeply severed during the last negotiations. It appears that both sides have no clear answer for why the promising negotiations went south faster than Scott Gomez’s career.

One thing is for certain, Fehr will certainly be far less scattered in his next set of negotiations. Jumping from one issue to another is a good tactic early on in negotiations…and is also a clear sign he may have ADHD. It almost worked for the players in this past negotiating session…the jumping, not the ADHD.

But with time running out for a deal he will have to stick to the subjects that are most important to the NHLPA and truly reveal to the NHL which chips currently in play are most important. While this might mean signing a deal that is less advantageous, it is the difference between playing hockey and playing “Leafs Playoff Hockey” (see Wikipedia entry for “Golf”).

Fehr knows as well as anyone that with the season out of the way the NHL has the bigger advantage. They have far less to lose when there is no hope of hockey and will become ruthless as they did during the last lockout.

This is why despite the painful progression of labour contractions…err, discussions, there is a good chance a season will still happen. The cancellations are disheartening, but in many ways they were inevitable. Don’t lose hope yet, NHL faithful, but certainly don’t get your hopes up either because it hangs by just a Nicole Richie thread.

We all know what the NHL does to hopes and dreams.

Don’t forget to catch LWOS’s “Puckheads: The Hockey Show” on Last Word Radio every Wednesday at 10pm EST and follow me on Twitter – @LastWordMitch