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NHL Lockout Support Group

Katie Baker heads to her inbox to comfort the legions of hockey fans going through withdrawal

You have to admit, there was something darkly comic about last week’s NHL lockout news. For the second time, the league and the union met with federal mediators in an attempt to bridge the (small!) gap that stubbornly remains between players and owners.

While no meaningful progress was made, the reports about how the mediation was structured made for some good visuals: The two sides were sequestered in separate rooms, with the mediators going back and forth and gauging their reactions to various hypothetical situations. I can’t be the only one with a crystal-clear mental image of Gary Bettman, fingers in ears, shaking his head and screaming LA-LA-LA every time the mediator attempted to engage.

There were reportedly no talks this weekend, and both the NHL and the NHLPA are now looking to test out their legal options. The NHL launched a “preemptive legal strike” on Friday; in turn, the players’ association has begun taking a vote on whether to authorize its leadership to proceed with a disclaimer of interest.

With everything running in place at the moment, I thought we’d turn to the mailbag to answer a few questions and allow you to air your sorrows and grievances in a safe space. Just remember: It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.

What is hope?

Does happiness exist?
— Connor S.

I read the first line of this e-mail to the tune of this song. The “baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more” lyrics really are tailor-made for the NHL fan. Anyway, congratulations, Connor S., for authoring the third-most depressing lockout e-mail of the week!

So like, forget hockey in and of itself for a minute. I honestly think the worst part of this has been a lack of Doc Emrick! I haven’t heard the words lifted, lofted, DRIIIIVEE, fired, waffleboarded, knifed, kicked, jai’alied, speared, skyhooked, blasted, and swaggered in far too long. I also (somehow) miss Pierre being creepy as hell behind the glass!!! This lockout has to end right now, OR Doc has to start narrating my personal life.
— Ryan G.

You forgot one of my personal favorites: HELTER SKELTER!, which describes this lockout pretty well. I love NCAA hockey, but you have to wonder how many of the people tuning in for games this year are starved NHL fans idly channel-flipping, suddenly catching Doc’s voice — he’s been calling college games along with Pierre, whom I secretly miss too! — and pausing, silent tears rolling down their cheeks, just to hear that familiar cadence once more. Maybe the solution is to get Doc and Pierre to narrate a weekly show of CBA news. I can imagine it now:

Doc: The union’s solidarity PINBALLED around the boards … BIG DRIVE by Roman Hamrlik! OFF! THE! POST! And now the play has stopped, but the action … has not.

Pierre: [Muffled screaming about the family tree of Kevin Westgarth’s assistant coach back in Ontario peewee hockey, Doc!]

Doc: Back at the ranch, the NHLPA JACKKNIFES a new CBA proposal into the zone. Ohhh, but THAT ONE WOULD. NOT. GO!

Pierre: [Muffled screaming about Bill Daly being a BIG BEEFY BOY, Doc!]

Can you explain to me why on earth would the players want a shorter CBA? So we can do this again in six years? No thanks. The owners seem to get more and more out of them every deal, so why wouldn’t they want a ten year deal?
— James W.

After seemingly promising CBA talks dissolved last week, Bill Daly told the press that for the NHL, the following three issues were “the hill we will die on”:

• A five-year term limit on player contracts (seven if you’re re-signing your own player) with a 5 percent allowable variation between the highest- and lowest-paid years

• No amnesty buyouts allowed, and no cap on escrow

• A 10-year term on the CBA, with a mutual opt-out clause after eight years

(I’d want a little bit more of a glamorous death myself, but that’s just me.)

But I thought the same thing as you: Shouldn’t the players want a 10-year deal, so they’re not right back in this situation a few years from now? I think the reason they’re resisting is twofold: (1) As Donald Fehr explained, it’s an “ethical or a philosophical” concern that “by the time you get to year five or year six, the majority of the players playing will never have voted on an agreement [or had] a say in their terms and conditions of employment,” and (2) the NHL’s 100-year anniversary is coming up in five years, and the league would likely not want to be embroiled in (yet another) labor dispute during a time of such marketing gold, which could conceivably give the players’ association more leverage down the road. Yes, this is how cynical this lockout has made me become.

Which gets solved first: the fiscal cliff or the NHL lockout? The similarities are there, and all us normal folk are just along for the ride. Jon Stewart could even do a “Call the House Budget Committee” parody.
— Will J.

You’re so right — just look at today’s L.A. Times story about the fiscal cliff situation. It’s almost eerie: If you changed just a few names and details, it would pretty much exactly describe the NHL’s labor negotiations. (“… their third face-to-face session ended after nearly an hour with no sign of progress … publicly, the two sides appear to be drifting apart … a feisty moment … ‘that’s why we don’t have an agreement’ … the exchange was ‘frank’ … ‘that’s not on the table’ … a majority, 56%, would blame both sides.”)

But the fiscal cliff may be solved first. According to a White House spokesman, talks are already “‘beyond’ the 11th hour,” while the NHL situation probably still has a week or two to go, I’m afraid, before it’s confronted with any sort of drop-dead date. I love the idea of Jon Stewart getting into the Robyn parody video business (would he wear maternity yoga pants like Harrison Mooney was willing to do, though?), but it distracts from a chilling truth: If things get much worse on the NHL side, Mooney’s next masterpiece might have to be done to the tune of “Dancing On My Own.”

Is it too early to consider the Wild the darkhorse favorite in the Western Conference? I put the top line up against anyone in the NHL, Granlund looks like the frontrunner for rookie of the year, and Sut —*trails off into silent weeping…*
— Sven in Duluth

This is the second-most depressing lockout e-mail I received. The weird thing for Wild fans is that not only are they being deprived of seeing their new-and-improved team hit the ice with big offseason free-agent acquisitions Zach Parise and Ryan Suter onboard, those very signings have made the team and its owner, Craig Leipold, easy scapegoats. (It’s not necessarily undeserved — even Parise and Suter themselves have had strong words about teams signing players to big contracts this summer and then almost immediately crying poor — but Minnesota ain’t the only team to have done so.) To hear taunting rival fans tell it, though, those two contracts might as well have been the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.

While we’re on the subject of Minnesota, though: If the NHL does come back, which I do think it will, how bonkers will the potential 48-game season be? I know we’ve been through one back in 1995 — when I used to post on hockey Usenet boards back in the dark ages, the big dis to the Devils was always “half a season, half a Cup!!!!!!!!” — but I think things would be even more nuts now that teams earn points for overtime losses, which compresses the standings.

Just look at the Wild last season: After 31 games, they were leading the Western Conference in points; their fall back down to earth sparked a pretty epic fight between the advanced-statistics crowd (who predicted a crash was inevitable) and the Wild faithful, who just preferred to believe. (On the flip side you have your Los Angeles Kings.) One of the basic tenets of advanced stats is the idea that there are certain things, like shot and save percentages, that over enough time will regress to an orderly mean. Take away that “enough time” part, though, and you’ve got sweet, sweet chaos.

On a scale of 1-10, how pissed are you there won’t be a 24/7 for the Winter Classic?
— Ted C.

I … I don’t even want to talk about it. I think the first episode would have been a few days ago, and oh god [runs away bawling] …

What’s to stop 24 American and Canadian billionaires from forming a new professional league? If the union disbands/decertifies, wouldn’t that open the door for the players to sign with this new league? There’s money to be made here, right? I would think since this was an owner’s imposed lockout, that the players have free reign to do what they want.
— Brian W.

There’s a small part of me that’s starting to root for exactly this nuclear option — it would be nothing if not entertaining. (During the NBA lockout Bill Simmons and Jay Kang kicked around a similar idea for basketball, and it’s kinda sad that it never came to fruition.) There’s no guarantee that an attempt by the union to decertify would be successful in court, but if it were, then yes — basically, everyone would instantly become a free agent. From there, you can go in all kinds of directions; after reading Tyler Dellow’s ode to the European football system, for example, I’m left thinking about how much fun hockey would be if you added in relegation.

Hockey has a long history of “rebel leagues,” most recently the World Hockey Association (where Wayne Gretzky got his start!), but there would be two major road blocks to trying something like it today: For one, you’d have to find places to play — it’s unlikely that you’d just be able to barge into existing NHL arenas — and for another, it would be wildly expensive, as the league would have to compete not just with old NHL-level salaries but also the money that’s thrown around in places like Russia. The Sporting News‘s Jesse Spector did some digging into what might be feasible and wrote a great piece on it. I also enjoyed this take on The Copper & Blue.

It’s unclear whether the union will try to put the screws to the league with the threat of decertification (or a disclaimer of interest), but various reports on Friday made it seem like it remains an option. Let’s (secretly, quietly, don’t tell anyone) hope so.

Last year, Peter King had an NFL work-stoppage note about Roger Goodell being spotted having a few beers with Jeff Saturday after a day of negotiations. By the account, they seemed like two bros just having a good chat over some pints.

Is there any corresponding scenario you can imagine involving Gary Bettman and a current NHL player? I can’t, but I’d love to see a prospective transcript of how that would go down. And, who would be the best player for just such a meeting — entertainment-wise? How about Ryan Whitney? Or, I think the visual of Bettman chilling with George Parros would be astonishing for someone who walked into a pub and ran into that.
— Jamie H.

It says a lot about the differing natures of the two lockouts that Goodell was spotted tossing a few brewskis back with a player mid-negotiations, whereas Gary Bettman and Sidney Crosby could barely even stand to make eye contact while passing one another on an escalator the other day. (That SID is BACK on the ESCALATOR!)

But now I can’t stop thinking about which man-date with the commish would be the best to encounter. We may have to contract the great Down Goes Brown to write up an imagining of this whole thing. Both Whitney and Parros would be great: They’re smart enough to cut through the bullshit, that’s for sure. But there’s also the physical absurdity of seeing Bettman clinking glasses with Scotty Hartnell and his small army of hemp-like necklaces, the quiet terror of Jonathan Toews glowering silently from across the table (Gary would look up and be all, “No, no, he’s not mad, this is just how he always is”), or the hilarious potential of a pancake breakfast with Dustin Penner at Bettman’s favorite Seinfeldian diner. Wait, does Tim Thomas count as a current player??? I vote for Tim Thomas. Has anyone even heard from the guy lately?! I’m sure he’s got thoughts on this whole thing, and I’m sure they’re extremely erratically capitalized.

If you could only have one F-word riddled celebration would it be Sidney Crosby’s “ffffffffffffff yea” after scoring the first goal in his first game back from concussion?

OR …

would it be the repeated F-bombs dropped by Jonathan Quick after the Stanley Cup parade?

I just really wanted an excuse to watch YouTube videos and remember that hockey used to exist :(
— CJ S.


No disrespect to Jonathan Quick, whom I like even more now after seeing him tweet about the New York Giants all fall (as well as asking whether it’s kosher to use Just For Men on a mustache), but I gotta go with Sid here. I know the Penguins were playing the lowly Islanders in Crosby’s comeback game, and facing a fourth-string goalie to boot. But after nearly a year of absolute uncertainty about his condition followed by a few weeks of frantic debate over whether he’d ever regain his old form, that goal (on his first shot!) was a legitimate goose bumps moment for pretty much anyone other than the most committed of the anti-Crosby brigade. (Other memorable F-bombs, by the way, include Dustin Brown post–Stanley Cup win and Henrik Lundqvist onstage at the NHL Awards.)

This NHL lockout is obviously devastating to thousands of people across the country. But will it hit any franchise/employees/fans harder than those here in Columbus? This city has pushed for an All-Star Game for years. Columbus finally got the hotel space in the Arena District, as the NHL mandated, to be able to host the event. Now, in all likelihood, Columbus will miss out on all of the revenue, publicity, and goodwill an All-Star Game can offer to a struggling franchise. And no team is more in need of that than the Blue Jackets. Is there anything we have to look forward to (besides Anisimov)?
— Eric B, Columbus, OH

I have nothing but love for Artem Anisimov, but when he is the shining light at the end of your tunnel, you know things are dire. In the past year alone, Columbus fans (and don’t joke “What Columbus fans?” because I contend that it’s a place that wants more than anything to lovelovelove hockey yet has been failed time and time again by its disaster of a franchise) have endured the Rick Nash Sweepstakes saga; lost the no. 1 overall pick in the lottery; watched Jeff Carter whine his way out of town and into a Stanley Cup parade; seen the team’s first-round draft pick, Ryan Murray, sidelined for the season with a shoulder injury; and lost the All-Star Game to the sands of the NHL lockout. (And with the Olympics next year, it’s likely there won’t be another All-Star Game until 2014-15.) I’m sure I’ll get e-mails from Blue Jackets fans rattling off about 15 other miserable things I left out.

We can all hope that the hiring of John Davidson helps turn things around, but for now? You’ll just have to take solace in knowing that out of all the lockout-related rants and pleas and hopes and complaints that I found in my inbox, this one was the no. 1 most depressing. So … congratulations, Columbus? You will always have this.

Filed Under: Current Events, NHL Lockout, NHL Playoffs, NHL Viewing Guide, Sports

Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ katiebakes