Johnson: NHL, NHLPA playing all of us for rubes
Now that there’s renewed optimism the season will be saved, don’t expect fans to bow down at their altar if there’s a return
The most galling aspect of this turgid National Hockey League lockout melodrama is the utter inevitability of its ending; the predictable drawn-out charade of being played for saps, rubes, like a particularly hillbilly-ish tourist group from some backwater town trying to hail a couple of hacks in midtown Manhattan at Friday rush hour in the rain.
The eleventh-hour haggling followed by the Indiana Jones-like rescue just as the giant boulder seems set to surely crush whoever’s in its path.
Hmmmm, there’s a plot development we shoulda seen coming ...
You had to know deep within your sense of reason that the NHL and the Players Association would, for appearance sake if nothing else, need to inch ever closer to the very edge of the ledge, feel their toes wriggling off the side, actually see the pavement rising up from so many storeys below, to step back and save themselves. In spite of themselves.
They rather grandly refer to this laborious process as “negotiation.”
You may feel free to call it something else.
So many florid, overwrought doomsday moments — U.S. Thanksgiving, the Winter Classic cancellation, the All-Star Game cancellation, Christmas, New Year’s — that approached like tremors only to recede softly into the past, and be replaced by — zounds! — a new apocalyptic date. So many drop-dead proposals that the only people who actually cared in the first place — the poor suckers who pay the ticket-revenue-driven freight — felt like, well, dropping dead.
Now, with Friday’s concessional olive branch (“Allll Gary’s sayyyyy-ing, is give peace a chance ...”) extended by a league that has been breathtaking in its inflexibility, it appears that sanity will, in the final analysis, prevail. Right beside that lump of coal, at the very bottom of the Christmas stocking, a 300-page CBA proposal was discovered by that naughty-list humbug Donald Fehr and his band of entitled elves, three days late.
A season can be saved!
Well, hallelujah and pass the nachos, there’s a TV timeout ...
The league, meaning the billionaire guys in the cashmere overcoats, “blinked” in the acriminous staredown with employees demanding to be “partners” in a business they’re not obliged to sink a penny of their own into (Think of it: NO risk! ALL profit! What a system!). Among other issues addressed in the ‘secret’ — read: surreptitiously leaked — document Friday, the player contract limit has reportedly been upped from five years to six, contract variance is up to 10 per cent from five and the contentious $300 million “make whole” is suddenly, as if by a magical wave of David Copperfield’s hand, back on the table.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t squabbling left to do, headaches to overcome, points to be polished.
But hockey, you finally get the feeling, will return, after all. And naturally we’ll be expected to celebrate as if Caesar were marching into Rome after the sack of Gaul.
Flowers! Music! Wenches! Over-priced beer! Ten bucks for parking!
They’re counting on everyone being so damned happy to see them back whacking pucks off the glass to clear the zone that the pungent stench of the past four months will be forgiven, forgotten. They’ve smugly counted on it all along.
And all, once more, will be well with our world.
Our world is a very different one from the worlds of Tampa and Miami and Phoenix and Carolina, of course; places that don’t fill buildings to watch teams — particularly bad ones — strictly out of force of habit, aren’t quite so head over heels in love with the frostbitten romance of the game as we are.
This isn’t an avocation of flares being fired off or seats set alight, understand, quite the contrary, but at least European soccer patrons do sometimes manifest their displeasure at the clubs they help make rich. They stage choreographed walkouts, by rows, by whole sections, even, during matches. They’ve been known to turn their backs in mass protest to the action on the pitch, to make a point, to draw attention to injustices to their loyalty, both emotional and financial.
Here, we’ll just tug on our replica Jarome Iginla No. 12 jerseys, dutifully trudge down to the rink and hope like hell that Miikka Kiprusoff can repel in the neighbourhood of 35 to 40 pellets and give the courageous local lads a fighting chance to beat back those battlin’ Blue Jackets. As if they’d never been away. As if nothing had ever happened.
So much money lost. So much momentum gone. So many incidental people who need the game for their livelihood affected. So much time wasted.
So predictable. So stupid.
This could still blow up in their faces, of course. These guys could fight over the pecking order in a two-car funeral.
Yet the inevitable seems closer at hand than ever before. They’ve finally reached the edge of the ledge, felt their toes wriggle, peered down at the pavement, and remembered the ugly Splat! of ’04-05.
Oh, they’ll prattle on endlessly about the good of the game and a new bond formed, maybe join hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’ and trot out all that By-The-Cue-Cards malarky. But those of us played for saps since this turgid melodrama began know better now.
They’ve bleated and bluffed, postured and posed, for four long, drawn-out months to get to this sorry point.
Wringing, in the process, the last possible drop of blood out of each other.
And, consequently, out of you.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, right, and deputy commissioner Bill Daly speak to reporters in New York recently. The NHL made a new proposal on Thursday to the players’ association, hoping to spark talks to end the long lockout and save the hockey season.
Photograph by: Mary Altaffer, AP