Dead October: NHL Cancels Games, Shoots Itself in the Foot

The NHL has locked out again and it's everyone's fault.

N o one may have expected the Spanish Inquisition, but everyone expected the NHL to cancel games.

It finally happened on Thursday afternoon. The NHL cancelled all regular season games through October 24 – 82 in total.

It would have taken an undying optimist to not expect the opening weeks to be cancelled, but now that it’s official, the atmosphere seems to have changed.

Losing the preseason did not hurt anyone outside of the few borderline players trying to crack opening day NHL rosters. Fans missed out on mishmash hockey played by bloated rosters, stars missed out on shortened minutes and a chance to be injured, the media missed out on trying to create drama out of games that didn’t matter. In many sports there has been a push to shorten preseasons or do away with them altogether, so losing the preseason was seen as a blessing by some.

The regular season is a different animal.

Losing the regular season is, frankly, absurd. While we expected cancellations and overseas defections, it never should have happened.

The entire reason for this lockout is that the Collective Bargaining Agreement expired. You know, the one signed after the NHL lost an entire season in 2004-05? The one that they knew was expiring for 8 years? Yeah. That one.

The CBA’s expiration did not sneak up on anyone. They had years to extend it…and yet, as the clock ticked into the last moments of the midnight deadline on September 15, there was no agreement.

Somehow, the players have skirted much of the blame on this one. As the deadline neared, NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr magnanimously declared that the players would be more than willing to play under the terms of the old CBA until a new one was signed.

It was a bluff, you know…for publicity. In 1994, the MLBPA pulled the exact same move on Major League Baseball – graciously agreeing to play while a new CBA was hammered out. Of course, three months later, the players walked out and the World Series was cancelled for the first time in 90 years.

But that’s a once in a lifetime thing, right? What would the NHL have to worry about? Oh…right. In 1994, the MLBPA was run by Donald Fehr.

Donald Fehr wanted everyone to ignore the fact that he had pulled that exact same move before and then pulled the rug right out from underneath the baseball owners. Granted, the 1994 MLB strike was as much on the owners as it was on the players. In the same token, the players have their own share of the blame for the work stoppage and for the loss of the opening weeks of the season.

Fehr spent 26 years as the head of the MLBPA, including 15 after the strike. He knows what he’s doing. He knows how to get a reaction and he knows how to make the other side look bad.

While Gary Bettman was hired by the NHL back in 1993 with the intent of preventing further work stoppages (there was a brief strike in 1992), Fehr was almost certainly brought in by the NHLPA with the sole intent of negotiating the upcoming CBA. Right now, Fehr is also showing that he has Gary Bettman beaten in at least one phase of the negotiating game – Fehr knows how to play to the public, while Bettman does not.

Fans want to play the blame game and the fingers tend to all point at the NHL’s owners, but there is plenty of blame to go around.

Yes, there are 30 owners and ownership consortiums who bear a huge amount of the blame for the ridiculousness that is the cancellation of regular season games, but it takes two sides – TWO sides – to negotiate a contract. The players are far from blame-free on this one. Any effort to support one side over the other at this point is misguided at best. The reason that there is a lockout and that games are now being cancelled is that both sides have failed to agree on terms that they had EIGHT YEARS to figure out.

It seems like half of the league’s players are currently playing in Europe right now. How can you possibly get a deal done when you are not even in the country? Yes, there are cell phones, Skype and the like, but honestly – if the players had any intent of actively trying to come to a deal with the NHL, they’d still be in North America, not playing overseas, right?

In fact, the only group affected by the lockout that has zero say in its ending is the fans. Protests and petitions, while well-intentioned, serve about as much purpose in ending a labor negotiation as writing this blog post. They do nothing except give a forum to vent. There is a very simple way that fans can express their frustrations and get noticed – taking their entertainment dollars elsewhere – but, by and large, they cannot express that displeasure until the lockout actually ends.

Yes, a lockout means that the owners are technically not allowing the players to play without a new CBA…but let’s be honest with each other, the NHL has locked out yet again…and it’s everyone’s fault.

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A native of Franklin, Tennessee, Patten Fuqua is the managing editor of PuckScene.com. He earned a Bachelor’s of Science from Belmont University in Journalism and Broadcasting.