It’s Oct. 12 and the Washington Capitals were supposed to open the 2012-13 NHL season Friday night at Verizon Center against the defending Eastern Conference-champion New Jersey Devils. They were one game from facing the Devils in the Eastern final last spring, and while this wouldn’t have made up for that, opening night is even more special with this kind of game.
It should have been. Instead, the league and NHL Players’ Association are engaged in a stalemate during a lockout that already cost the preseason and 82 regular-season games. Seven Caps games and millions of dollars in leaguewide revenue are gone.
But on Thursday after a negotiation session, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly struck a cord with some comments to reporters, as quoted by ESPN New York.
“Until we’re tackling the major issues, I’m not sure what the urgency is to meet on a 24/7 basis,” Daly said.
No “urgency?” Sure, from a logistical perspective, owners are getting television revenue from NBC even without a season and many players (over a hundred according to various counts) are receiving paychecks in Europe.
But, no really? No urgency? Hardcore hockey fans can’t enjoy the best time of the year in sports, and Caps folks in the D.C. area can’t join in on the fun as the Redskins are finally exciting to watch and the Nationals are in the playoffs.
Verizon Center remains quiet on nights that hockey games were supposed to fill it, cutting into employees’ shifts and into area businesses.
The Front Page restaurant in Arlington, across the street from the Caps’ practice facility, has lost 10-15 percent of its usual business because training camp was canceled. But owner Jorge Fernandez was quick to praise players and members of the organization for coming in still, despite no season.
A decline like that could continue all winter if the NHL and NHLPA are unable to solve their “major issues,” which start with how to divide up hockey-related revenue. Right now, they’re talking about the minor things, like drug testing and player safety, while the NHL empire burns.
“If we had everything else settled, we could go back and solve the remaining issues in six hours,” Steve Fehr told reporters in New York.
According to a report by TSN, more games will soon be canceled and that move could be significant. The more optimistic folks around hockey considered a Thanksgiving start appropriate if there must a lockout. That could soon fade into December or worse.
And after the Toronto Star reported the commissioner Gary Bettman was considering pulling the plug on the Winter Classic as early as November to take it away as a negotiating tool, well, the time for urgency is now.