We are nearly two months into the NHL’s work stoppage and amazingly there is no prospect for a resolution to this stalemate. Talks have stalled, as neither the NHLPA representatives nor the NHL brass will budge in what has become a who-will-blink-first negotiation. Even the Winter Classic, a game basically everyone in the hockey world expected would be played, is now in serious jeopardy, as reported by ESPN.com.
The dragging process has begun to wear on players, who now sense a serious threat to the hope of a hockey season this year. Early on in the process, NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr had his constituents on a short leash; players were tight-lipped because they believed they could come out ahead in the new labor agreement. Now, however, there is so much financial uncertainty that NHLers have to consider options for playing abroad, a very unattractive option for those with families.
Frustrations from marquee players are surfacing in recent days. Martin Brodeur, perhaps the league’s best all-time netminder, spoke out against the league’s tactics during the work stoppage in this story by ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun. More than the lost revenue caused by silly posturing between Fehr and Comissioner Gary Bettman, Brodeur feared that a second prolonged lockout in eight years would irreparably set smaller markets back. Teams like the Devils, as well as myriad others that Bettman has consistently stood behind during his tenure, do not have stability like that of a Canadian market to sustain another year without hockey.
Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller also spoke to ESPN about the difficulties of the two sides’ interaction. There seems to be a growing sentiment, echoed by Miller, that egos are precluding a meaningful discussion, which, given how much is at stake, is more than aggravating for players and fans alike.
One wonders if Fehr will have to concede his position somewhat as players become more disgruntled with the negotiating process. Similarly, the NHL is tenuously (at best) holding on to its loyal fan base and devoted sponsors. There are thus different exogenous factors on both sides that should push each party closer to an agreement. Hopefully, both sides will sense the external pressure and end the pointless staring contest that has wiped out at least two full months of hockey. Until that happens, though, there is no reason to believe the puck will drop any time soon.