Did you know, that as of right now, the NHL season is still technically scheduled to start on time next Thursday? Yep, everyone is going about their business as if there's going to be meaningful hockey next week, as if all the best players will rushing back from Russia, as if the teams will re-hire all the staff they laid off. It's a joke, of course, and not the ha-ha kind. The league is expected to begin canceling games any day now, but only two weeks' worth at a time, which might be the most optimistic thing we've heard in a while.
When the sides sat down on Friday, they were clear that they wouldn't be discussing the "core economic concerns." That's obviously not a promising start. Never was there a successful negotiation that worked out the minor issues first, rather than treat them as concessions to be made once the fundamental questions are decided. But Elliotte Friedman of the CBC reports that's exactly how the NHL and the Players' Association approached this weekend's talks: they planned to sweat the small stuff.
If you have any doubt what a stalemate the NHL lockout has become, consider this: talks took a step backward last weekend because the league and the NHL Players' Association could not agree on who should pay for a) an extra trainer on the road and b) for each player to have his own hotel room.
Players felt teams should pay for both, especially since an extra trainer is a safety issue. Apparently, some teams only travel with one. As for single rooms, well, they've been fighting for that since Matt Stajan made Joe Nieuwendyk watch The Fifth Wheel. Right now, you can be solitary if you've played 600 NHL games.
The league, of course, feels otherwise, that these are added costs and should come out of hockey related revenue. There's no consensus and everybody leaves grumbling.
The league and the union are so far apart on the actual issues that caused the lockout—HRR, revenue sharing, salary caps and rollbacks—that they decided not to even bring it up at the bargaining table. Instead they focused on who'll pay for trainers and hotel rooms, and they couldn't even come close to agreeing on that. We are going to be here a while.
At least there'll be hockey to watch in the meantime. ESPN and the KHL have reached an agreement where the network will air a number of Russian games on its online streaming service ESPN3. First up, Dynamo Moscow, with Alex Ovechkin, against Ak Bars Kazan tomorrow night. It'll be the first pro hockey ESPN has aired since the 2003-2004 NHL season.
Meanwhile NBC Sports Network, whose giant NHL deal was supposed to begin this year (though NBC will still pay the league, even if there's a lockout), is having its worst ratings since it was the Outdoor Life Network in 2003.