It's 10:00 pm CT on Thursday, Dec. 6. I've been sitting here for approximately the past 3 hours watching the top professional hockey league in the world give every appearance of self-destruction.
By now the details are all over hockey's little corner of the Internet. If you missed the whole drama, I say, Welcome back, you lucky dog. We've saved your seat. Now go read about it and be overcome with pity, anger, and fear.
- Late Tuesday night: "NHLPA calls latest CBA talks ‘best day we’ve had’ with NHL owners"
- Wednesday afternoon: "NHL, players make serious lockout progress"
- Early Wednesday Evening: "If NHL lockout ends, how many games would 2012-13 regular-season have?"
- Late Wednesday evening: "NHL, NHLPA hold extended ‘candid’ talks"
- Thursday morning: "More talk, more tension"
- Thursday evening: "Watch Gary Bettman blow up lockout negotiations"
- Thursday evening on Twitter: "A Twitter scrapbook of disappointment"
It's been in turns bizarre, hopeful, triumphant, silly, boring, and dramatic. Once again this horrible process has put us through the wringer. Honestly, just scrolling through Puck Daddy's headlines should be enough to get a pretty good idea of how this went down. We went from "the best day we've had yet" to "we'll stay long enough to get a deal done" to "blow[ing] up the talks."
It ended, at least for now, with dueling press conferences by Don Fehr and Gary Bettman. Fehr built us up, told us how close a deal was, talked about "complete agreement" on several key money issues. Giddy with relief, we relaxed. This could actually work. Not ten minutes later, he relayed that the league had rejected the PA's proposal (and done so over voice mail, no less) and broken off further talks. [Video of Fehr's presser is here.]
Which was the cue for the Gary Bettman Show to begin. [Video of Bettman's presser is in the "Watch Bettman..." link above.]
I won't even try to describe it. It was just horrifying. Really and truly horrifying.
The fact that it was all theater makes it worse, to be honest.
Seriously. @#$% you, Don Fehr, you evil, manipulative troll. That was uncalled for, borderline unethical, and just plain mean. You played us like Charles Manson (note: I read a lot of crime books. Sorry). Congratulations on eroding what little public support remains for your tactics.
And Bettman, you little worm. How long did it take you to decide to sell out Ron Burkle and Jeff Vinik? Thirty seconds? Or did you ponder for at least a full minute? Was it decided Tuesday night or did you wait until after the Board of Governors meeting? Yeah, you were mad. You were furious that Fehr was able to turn the tables on your dismissal of the negotiations and bring the players back together. How insulting. Grow up, both of you.
I'm left with a sick and sinking feeling in my stomach. It's like watching a train wreck. No. That's not it. It's like being in a speeding car with your friends while they have the last fight before the divorce lawyers are called. You see the impact coming. You yell increasingly desperately for them to pay attention to where they're going, do something, turn, jump, move.
But they don't stop screaming at each other. They don't see it. They're just going on their way, not listening, taking you along with them as they head towards the abutment. When they finally do look up, you see the realization come over them, just before impact, that imminent doom is facing them.
That's where we are--right there, where horror takes over. Where the idiots who are driving this car are finally aware that there isn't any more time. And they still hate each other so much they just can't let it go long enough to turn the wheel.
I was reading some quotes this morning from Predators forward Mike Fisher, practicing in Tennessee, about the issue of the CBA length. The players had been pushing for a shorter agreement, while the league wanted ten years. No one could seem to understand why the players would want a shorter CBA, leaving them vulnerable to another lockout in a few years. His response is telling.
Fisher on 10-year CBA: "We're giving up so much the owners are sensing how good it is. They'd sign for 20 years. It's a good deal for them."— Ryan Porth (@Smashville247) December 6, 2012
Fisher said, essentially, that the owners seemed to want it so badly that he was sure it was a bad deal for the players.
And that, right there, is the crux of the problem. This isn't about getting what's actually, rationally, demonstrably good for either the players or the owners. It's about making sure that the other guy goes home unhappy. They'll take a bad deal just to make the other guy hurt. Worse, they'll convince themselves it's a good deal. It's about checking them into the boards and forcing them to respect you. Which is just f@#$ing dumb. It's not about doing business and it needs to be.
And here I sit, watching the top league of a sport I love, and the great sprawling, rowdy, sarcastic, passionate, amazing hockey community come apart. And God, that hurts.