This is a strange Friday for hockey fans.
The NHL is minutes away from cancelling the Winter Classic. In fact, depending on when you read this, the annual outdoor game may be officially bagged.
This may be viewed by some as the worst development yet during an NHL lockout that hit Day 48 as of Friday.
However, perhaps it is not the biggest development of Friday regarding the lockout.
Talks this week between NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and Players’ Association special counsel Steve Fehr have progressed to the point that there is an expectation for meetings to resume.
The NHL and its union have not gathered face-to-face since Oct. 18, when the league rejected three proposals from the NHLPA, though one of those was a verbal presentation.
There is a working theory among those in the labor negotiation community that developments this week are a positive sign, that more progress will be made between Daly and Fehr communications than any other form, and that the next face-to-face talks should provide a clearer picture of whether fans can expect hockey this season.
Of course, as Sidney Crosby said after a players’ practice Friday, perhaps it is unwise to read into, well, anything.
“Going into things you probably try to tell yourself that, but once it goes a few weeks and you hear there are some talks or hear there are some proposals, or you see proposals being handed around, it’s hard not to think or look down the road,” Crosby said. “I think, after what happened a few ago, it was a good lesson for everyone to take things in stride. We’ll see, really, how those talks go if and when they do negotiate. I think everyone just tries to stay really balanced. It’s (what is) better off to do.”
Another working theory, among some Penguins players, is that NHL owners still believe an 82-game season can be salvaged – even though commissioner Gary Bettman said on Oct. 16 that the league could only play an 82-game schedule if games started Nov. 2, which is the Friday we’re all living.
There is belief within NHL offices that a 72-game season could begin Dec. 1, provided a labor deal could be worked out.
“If there was any chance to get anywhere close to 82 games it would have to be done in the next couple of weeks,” Crosby said. “You hear all those numbers thrown around (about) somewhat close to a full season. Whether a full season can be salvaged, I don’t know.
“I think everyone wants to play a full season. I would hope that. As a player, as an owner, you want to play a full season. You don’t want to see anybody lose games, fans especially. I think that number would be different if you asked 10 guys it would be different for every guy. I can only answer for myself. I would say if we can get close to a full season – if you can only get 81, get 81. Get as many as you can, that’s what I would say. That’s what we want.”
Crosby cited the shortened NBA last season, which cut 16 games from the 82-game schedule.
“You talk about injuries and stuff like that – that was brought up,” he said. “You’re trying to find that fine line between keeping it safe and getting as many games in.”
An interesting subplot to the resumption of negotiations: The KHL begins its fall break Sunday. Games will not resume until Nov. 14, which leaves a nifty window for the NHL to get players back to North America if progress can be made on a new labor deal. Evgeni Malkin’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk has already played its final pre-break game, so he could be back on a plane Monday if, say, he had a reason.
The timing of the KHL break is likely a coincidence, but the time is now right for the NHL and NHLPA to get serious. December hockey is not an impossibility, and movement soon toward a deal could lead to a suitable training camp – five days is kind of insane, even for typically short hockey camps – and still 70-some games.
Would hockey fans trade the Classic for that? Discuss…