Forget it Marge, it’s a lockout

And it’s official. As of midnight last night, the NHL has locked out its players from practicing, from training camps, and from games. We somewhat know the issues. The NHL wants to cut costs, the PA want to have their current contracts honoured, it’s a ripe big mess and an indication that despite having all the leverage in 2005, the NHL didn’t fix anything they wanted to fix.

The general consensus is that the league will restart before it misses out on significant dollars, and those come when games start being broadcast on national TV starting with the Winter Classic on January 1st. My money’s on Detroit and Toronto being the first game of the season.

Some reaction, stories filed for publishing at 12:01 am Sunday morning:

Michael Grange of Sportsnet magazine, who has quickly become a must-read with his coverage of the league’s labour situation, argues that the 2005 collective bargaining agreement was another mis-step in a tumultuous reign of commissioner Gary Bettman:

And yet even as Bettman is trying to remake a deal that was “too fair”, the players can still use their defeat seven years past as a rallying point; an old score that needs to be settled by emerging as sturdy bargaining unit rebuilt from the ashes of defeat.

They are dug in deeper than Bettman may have anticipated, inspired by the crafty Fehr and now he’s found himself in a quandary.

With the clock having struck midnight on what was supposed to be Bettman’s masterwork the question becomes what does he really want his legacy to be after 20 years lording over the NHL?

Jesse Spector of the Sporting News laments how long it took for the sides to begin negotiating, almost as if a prolonged work stoppage was planned and not preventable:

There was more dickering over details, but little movement from either side. By the time the final offers were made on Wednesday, all that either side could agree on was that the other guys had barely moved off their initial positions. Both were right. Instead of negotiating, the NHL and NHLPA spent the summer on a staring contest, and nobody blinked. Things became so toxic that with the CBA expiring on Saturday night, there were no formal negotiations after Wednesday.

It did not matter that the NHLPA had the fairer offer on the table at the end, because, as Bettman said on Thursday, in his last public pre-lockout comments. “We made … what we thought was a fair deal (in 2005). It actually turned out to be more fair than perhaps it should have been.” This wasn’t about being fair. It was about showing the NHLPA that, regardless of who is running the union, the owners hold the hammer.

Sunday at 12:01 a.m., the NHL swung that hammer, and hit itself right in the thumb. Again.

Yahoo! Sports’ Nick Costonika waits, as greed drives the bus on both sides of the table:

And so we wait.

We wait while Bettman threatens that the league’s offer will keep getting worse, the owners squeezing and squeezing. We wait while NHL Players’ Association executive director Don Fehr makes his ideological arguments, the players hoping and hoping.

We wait while the accountants crunch the numbers and the lawyers argue in court. We wait while the players scatter to local rinks and the minors and Europe, skating for nothing or playing for less somewhere else.

Meanwhile in the Leafs blogosphere…

  • Maple Leaf Hotstove has the rundown in what the Leafs are doing in event of a lockout. It came out today that Ben Scrivens won’t actually be joining the Toronto Marlies as he would still have to clear waivers, which is contrary to a report earlier in the week that players on two-way contracts would be waiver-exempt. So Scrivens doesn’t have a team as of now.
  • Our own Steve Dangle shares his frustration in a rant-style post. Poor guy loves his hockey.
  • Actually, Steve has a leg-up on the rest of us. He does a “Joining the Rush” segment with Nations Russian correspondant (and former Thompson Rivers University WolfPack) and they’re well-positioned to bring us some KHL news. They visited the Hockey Hall of Fame with Toronto Maple Leaf/Marlie Leo Komarov:

  • Michael from Vintage Leaf Memories asks for thoughts on how he should proceed as a blogger, adding that “I have backtracked on my own intentions by discussing this issue as much as I have.” That makes us sad. It’s understandable that constant talk about economics drives away hockey fans. Our own website will concentrate on the hockey going on in Southern Ontario that is happening, mainly the Marlies and covering some Leafs prospects in the OHL.
  • James Reimer has a prominent role in the plea from the players to the fans that, no, it isn’t really only about the money:
  •  In the interest of fairness, here is the full statement from the NHL’s corporate overlords as it appears on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ official website:

The following message to fans was issued by the National Hockey League on Sunday

Despite the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the National Hockey League has been, and remains, committed to negotiating around the clock to reach a new CBA that is fair to the Players and to the 30 NHL teams.

Thanks to the conditions fostered by seven seasons under the previous CBA, competitive balance has created arguably the most meaningful regular season in pro sports; a different team has won the Stanley Cup every year; fans and sponsors have agreed the game is at its best, and the League has generated remarkable growth and momentum. While our last CBA negotiation resulted in a seismic change in the League’s economic system, and produced corresponding on-ice benefits, our current negotiation is focused on a fairer and more sustainable division of revenues with the Players — as well as other necessary adjustments consistent with the objectives of the economic system we developed jointly with the NHL Players’ Association seven years ago. Those adjustments are attainable through sensible, focused negotiation — not through rhetoric.

This is a time of year for all attention to be focused on the ice, not on a meeting room. The League, the Clubs and the Players all have a stake in resolving our bargaining issues appropriately and getting the puck dropped as soon as possible. We owe it to each other, to the game and, most of all, to the fans.

Anyway, that’s that. Forget it folks, it’s a lockout, and it could last a while.