How to Stomach NHL Lockout

By HOWARD BERGER

NEW YORK (Sep. 13) – In a city renowned for star appeal, the National Hockey League trotted out its biggest names on Thursday afternoon – players and owners separated by a mere three blocks and two high-rise hotels on 7th Ave., in the heart of Broadway. Philosophically, the competing groups were in different hemispheres.

As a result, and barring a miracle that would dwarf the wonder of child-birth, official termination of the Collective Bargaining Agreement will commence at 12:00:01 a.m. on Sunday: a moment the NHL is not likely bound to acknowledge. Anyone with even passing interest in the labor kerfuffle knows the players have been – figuratively – locked out for some time. The translation becomes literal over the weekend.

Moments after a nearby gathering of the full NHL board of governors, commissioner Gary Bettman stepped to a dais in the Crowne Plaza Manhattan and told the assembled media – along with a nation-wide TV audience in Canada – that the owners had voted “unanimously” to follow through on their lockout pledge. While an informal “show of hands” was conducted, Bettman made it known he did not seek – nor require – explicit approval to trigger the fourth NHL work-stoppage in just more than 20 years.

Ironically, at the same hotel in which Bettman announced an end to the 103-day owners’ embargo in January 1995, he all-but confirmed the start of a new one.  

NHL COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN DELIVERING THE “NEWS” HERE ON THURSDAY.

And so it begins yet again – the nuclear winter hockey fans were hoping to avoid, but had to expect. As of midnight on Sunday, players will no longer be able to utilize team facilities; training camps will be postponed; the exhibition schedule canceled, and – at the appropriate juncture – blocks of regular-season games will follow. No one, at this time, can be certain how much of the 82-game schedule will survive – if at all. An educated consensus points toward a shortened 2012-13 season, rather than annulment.

But, who really knows what will happen?

Nothing seems to arouse the antipathy of hockey followers more than a calculated interruption of their pastime. As such, many thousands of dagger-eyes were affixed on the NHL commissioner Thursday afternoon. Roughly 90 minutes before Bettman took the stand, an enormous throng of players spilled into a ballroom at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in support of its leader, Donald Fehr, who spoke lamentably about the league’s chosen path. Sides have already been drawn up and sentiments conveyed – passion that will accrue in the weeks (months?) to follow.

HENRIK LUNDQVIST (LEFT) AND SIDNEY CROSBY LISTEN TO A MEDIA QUERY ON THURSDAY AFTERNOON DURING NHLPA NEWS GATHERING IN MID-TOWN MANHATTAN.

My advice to hockey zealots gripping over a protracted labor squabble? Relax. Though disappointment is natural, don’t waste precious time and energy on matters you cannot control. Bouncing off the walls and tearing at your scalp for 15 minutes will only cause discomfort; it will have no bearing whatsoever on the process. Nor will casting either component as the villain. None of the people involved in this matter are inherently evil or repugnant; they aren’t engaging in the dispute to make your life miserable or deprive you of enjoyment. As a fan, you are simply – and irrevocably – trapped in the cross-fire of big business. Accept it as best you can, and move on.

At some point, the game will resume and you’ll have the option of voting with your wallet. There is no other way you can influence the parties. And, chances are your acrimony will wane once the matter is resolved. So, why get all huffy in the interim? If your livelihood is dependent on the sport, I have no words of consolation. Sadly, there is collateral damage in every labor dispute and you are the real victims. But, elevating your blood-pressure will be similarly wasteful.

Without question, the biggest complication you’ll encounter is trying to understand the argument. I’m often asked why millionaires and billionaires scuffle over money. Simple: because they’re millionaires and billionaires. It’s the reason we don’t hear about such conflict involving gardeners, cleaning ladies, airport shoe-shiners or those that serve you popcorn at the theater – and God bless the above-mentioned for their service. These altercations are typically reserved for high commerce; the greater the financial pie, the more onerous it becomes to divide.

If you believe that money is the root of all evil – and why shouldn’t you – then the NHL owners and players stand guilty of treason. But, that’s the world in which they live and it is their conflict to overcome. The rest of us are mere spectators.

So, take it slow and take it easy. Ultimately, this matter will sort itself out. As Brian Burke aptly stated on Monday, labor unrest is not confined to hockey, or to professional sport. It is a by-product of free enterprise; a slow-dance between union and management; inevitable and unavoidable. All we can do is roll with the punches.

My trusty Nikon followed me to the Big Apple: 

THURSDAY’S WEATHER DID NOT CHANGE FROM DEPARTURE IN TORONTO (ABOVE) TO ARRIVAL IN NEW YORK (BELOW) – A 61-MINUTE FLIGHT FROM PEARSON TO LaGUARDIA.

AS MY FLIGHT IS ABOUT TO LAND, A JETLINER TAKES OFF (ABOVE) OVER FLUSHING BAY IN QUEENS, AND CITI FIELD – HOME OF THE NEW YORK METS.

WORRYING ABOUT A LOCKOUT IN THE NHL IS SIMILAR TO AVOIDING A TRAFFIC-JAM IN NEW YORK – FUTILE. AT LEAST, THE 45-MINUTE TAXI CRAWL ON THURSDAY PROVIDED SOME DECENT VIEWS OF THE CITY (ABOVE AND BELOW). 

      

TREKKING UP BUSY 7th AVE. TOWARD THE MARRIOTT MARQUIS HOTEL (BELOW).

WHILE AWAITING ARRIVAL OF THE NHLPA’s RANK-AND-FILE MEMBERSHIP, HOCKEY’S MAJOR DOMOS TOOK TO THE STAGE ON THURSDAY AFTERNOON: LEFT-TO-RIGHT (ABOVE): DANIEL ALFREDSSON, HENRIK LUNDQVIST AND SIDNEY CROSBY.

LUNDQVIST AND CROSBY SHARE A LAUGH (ABOVE) WHILE ZDENO CHARA MAKES A POINT WITH HIS HANDS TO CROSBY, RYAN GETZLAF AND MIKE FISHER (FAR-RIGHT).

HAL GILL WAITS – ARMS FOLDED – FOR MEDIA CONFERENCE TO BEGIN (ABOVE-LEFT) WHILE CROSBY, LUNDQVIST AND CHARA WATCH THE ROOM FILL WITH COLLEAGUES.

TYPICALLY POISED AND RELAXED, UNION HEAD DONALD FEHR STATES HIS CASE (ABOVE); THE BROTHERS SCHENN (BRAYDEN AND LUKE) LISTEN TO THEIR LEADER (BOTTOM-LEFT) AS DO COREY PERRY AND RYAN MILLER (RIGHT).

MORE THAN 200 NHL PLAYERS CROWDED THE MARRIOTT MARQUIS BALLROOM.

AFTERWARD, THERE WERE MEDIA SCRUMS OUTSIDE THE ROOM – JAROME IGINLA SURROUNDED (ABOVE) BY CAMERAS, LIGHTS AND MICROPHONES.

IGINLA AND ZACH PARISE (TOP-ABOVE); JOHN TAVARES AND ZDENO CHARA (BOTTOM).

SABRES’ GOALIE RYAN MILLER SPEAKS HIS PIECE (TOP-ABOVE) WHILE DANIEL ALFREDSSON IS INTERVIEWED (BOTTOM) BY IAN MENDES OF SPORTSNET.

DONALD FEHR IS INTERVIEWED BY TSN’s JAMES DUTHIE (ABOVE-LEFT); HENRIK LUNDQVIST PONDERS A QUESTION (RIGHT).

SARA ORLESKY OF TSN INTERVIEWS BIG GEORGE PARROS OF THE ANAHEIM DUCKS.

BRAYDEN SCHENN LEANS ON SUITCASE (ABOVE) WHILE TALKING TO BROTHER LUKE AND ANOTHER PLAYER IN NHLPA MEETING ROOM AT MARRIOTT MARQUIS.

ENDURING THIS PROCESS FOR THE FIRST TIME, SIDNEY CROSBY SOUNDED GENUINELY DISAPPOINTED WHEN HE TOOK TO THE PODIUM (ABOVE AND BELOW) ON THURSDAY.

THREE BLOCKS UP THE HEART OF BROADWAY (ABOVE) LED TO THE CROWNE PLAZA MANHATTAN (BELOW) – WHERE THE NEWS WOULD BE ANYTHING BUT SWEET.

THE COMMISH – CONFIDENT AND RESOLUTE – DELIVERS ANTICIPATED RESULT OF GOVERNORS’ MEETING (ABOVE) AND THEN FIELDS QUESTIONS FROM REPORTERS (BELOW).

DEPUTY COMMISSIONER BILL DALY (ABOVE-LEFT) AND LONG-TIME OUTSIDE-COUNCIL FOR THE NHL, BOB BATTERMAN, KEEP AN EYE ON BETTMAN FROM THE SIDE.

LOCAL COVERAGE…

IT WAS A SMALL SAMPLE-SIZE BUT ON A SIGNIFICANT DAY IN NHL LABOR DISPUTE, ONLY THE NEW YORK TIMES RAN A FULL-LENGTH STORY (BY REPORTER JEFF KLEIN, BELOW).

      

THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS (ABOVE-LEFT) DID NOT PRINT A WORD ABOUT THE NHL SITUATION IN ITS THURSDAY PAPER WHILE THE NEW YORK POST (RIGHT) FOCUSED ON THE NHL’s ALL-TIME GOALTENDING LEADER (BELOW).

THE SUN SET HERE IN MANHATTAN – AND, HOPEFULLY, NOT ON THE NHL SEASON.

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