By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Dec. 10) – Despite the impassioned breakdown of talks on Thursday between the NHL and the NHL Players Association, signs continue to point toward a potential truce.
Though an official resumption of collective bargaining has yet to be announced, two factors are working in favor of progress – a) conversation, by phone, over the weekend between second-in-commands Bill Daly and Steve Fehr, who have spoken more in recent weeks than teenagers falling in love, and b) the fact the NHL has yet to delete more of the existing 2012-13 schedule.
Clearly, that will have to happen in the next 24-48 hours. Games through Friday have already been canceled and there is no way the league could be up and running by Saturday – even if owners and players shook hands overnight. Abridged training camps of at least one week would have to proceed any length of schedule, with those toiling in Europe hastily summoned. But, if negotiations can resume by Monday or Tuesday – and there exists a glimmer of hope – the NHL may only pare games beyond the Christmas break, with a 50-to-56-game schedule beginning the first week of January.
NHL DEPUTY-COMMISSIONER BILL DALY (LEFT) AND PLAYERS ASSOCIATION SPECIAL COUNSEL STEVE FEHR (RIGHT) HAVE BECOME RATHER FAMILIAR TO ONE ANOTHER DURING THE LOCKOUT.
A more ambitious plan (given quick resolution) – as casually speculated – would have training camps opening by Thursday or Friday of this week with games starting on Christmas Day. The NHL hasn’t played on Christmas since 1971, when six games were scheduled on a Saturday night, including Montreal at Pittsburgh and Detroit at Toronto. In recent years, Dec. 25 has belonged to the NBA – this season, with a quintet of games including a double-header on ABC: New York at Los Angeles Lakers (3 p.m. EST) and Oklahoma City at Miami (5:30 p.m. EST) in a re-match of last spring’s final.
For decades, the NHL has chosen not to go head-to-head on Christmas against the NBA, but this year’s circumstance is rather unique. In order to conduct, say, a 56-game schedule and avoid playing into July (a must for the NHL), the season will be largely truncated – teams occasionally playing up to five games per week, and perhaps on three consecutive nights. Hockey must therefore resume as quickly as possible.
All of this, of course, is dependent on urgency from both sides. Given the league has been canceling games during the lockout at least one week in advance – but has yet to delete any portion of the schedule beyond this Friday – indicates that 11th-hour options are being considered.
WEEKEND THOUGHTS: Tragedy and heartache struck the hockey reporting fraternity when the 21-year-old son of Globe and Mail veteran David Shoalts passed away on Nov. 29. Matthew Shoalts was a talented and energetic film-maker in his final year of study at York University. He worshiped the Harry Potter series and was able to meet author and creator J.K. Rowling. I had the privilege of attending a memorial service for Matthew on Saturday in Bolton, Ont. The church overflowed with one-and-a-half times its seating capacity and included several dozen of David’s media colleagues. We were treated to a number of Matthew’s film creations and to the memories of his closest family members, who absolutely cherished him. My heart and prayers go out to David; his wife Yvonne and daughter Rebecca. They are part of a remarkable extended family. A fund has been established – the Matthew Shoalts Film Director’s Award – which will benefit future generations of film makers at York University who work toward completing their expensive fourth-year projects. Donations are accepted here: http://bit.ly/12gbyPT… I’ve been on the periphery of struggling Maple Leaf teams through the years, including the edition that collapsed in the final-third of last season. But, I can’t even imagine the environment around the Toronto Raptors right now. The NBA club is 4-17 after 21 games; 0-4 on a calamitous western road swing that ends Monday in Portland. On Friday night, in Salt Lake City, Raptors had a 10-point lead on Utah Jazz in the second quarter and eventually lost by 32. Sunday, in Los Angeles, Raptors played the L.A. Clippers tightly through 41 minutes only to fade and lose by 19. Therefore, Toronto has been out-scored by 61 points in the past six quarters… Though it must be an arduous chore, the Raptors’ TV duo of Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong continues to bring its ‘A’ game. Devlin and Armstrong strike a terrific balance – neither going overboard with criticism of the floundering team nor sugar-coating its plight. But, one thing that has always intrigued me about basketball broadcasters is their common use of first names. Raptors are referred to as “Andrea” (Bargnani), “DeMar” (DeRozan) and “Jose” (Calderon). Hard as I try, I cannot imagine Joe Bowen saying, “Phil head-mans the puck to Joffrey – over the blue-line – drop-pass to Dion who feeds Tyler right in front”… Don’t remember when I heard a football coach sounding as lame as Chan Gailey did after his Buffalo Bills were defeated at home Sunday on a last-minute drive by St. Louis Rams. Gailey called kicker Rian Lindell to the sideline in the fourth quarter rather than having him attempt a 50-yard field goal. After taking a 12-7 lead over the Rams, Gailey chose not to call for a two-point convert (his team butchered the one-point attempt). And, most egregiously, C.J. Spiller – one of the NFL’s most electrifying runners – touched the ball a total of eight times. I respect Gailey, but he was responsible for the defeat on Sunday… Tuesday night will mark six months since Los Angeles Kings hammered New Jersey Devils, 6-1, to win the Stanley Cup… Every time I see Max Domi playing for the OHL London Knights, I feel my age. It seems like only yesterday that father Tie Domi was bringing his bubbly, five-year-old son to Leaf practices. Every now and then, Max would be the “goalie” as I kicked a roll of tape toward him in the dressing room. Goodness, how time flies… Can’t wait to watch the NFL’s game-of-the-year on Monday night: 11-1 Houston at 9-3 New England. Denver is the only club that will prevent the Texans and Patriots from playing for the AFC championship… Loved the line from charismatic rookie Robert Griffin III after the Washington Redskins quarterback had his leg whipped around awkwardly on a tackle late in Sunday’s overtime victory over Baltimore. “It hurt and I did scream,” Griffin smiled – “but like a man.” The room-full of reporters burst into laughter… I was thrilled to learn that Tom Cheek will finally be inducted into the broadcasting wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Tom died of brain cancer in October 2005 and is famous in these parts for calling the first 4,306 games in Toronto Blue Jays history (1977-2004) – including the consecutive World Series triumphs of 1992 and 1993. He was a big bear of a man and I was honored to write a book with him after the Blue Jays’ first championship. Among my fondest memories at The Fan-590 were the times I had my wife and young children with me in Florida and got together with Tom and his wife, Shirley, the night before a Leafs game in Tampa. Cheek’s election to Cooperstown was long over-due.
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