- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2012


As Dynamo Moscow winger Alex Ovechkin was saying the other day …

Sorry, I just had to type those words.

After all, now that the lockout has begun, there are no Washington Capitals, there is no NHL. But there is a Kontinental Hockey League, based mostly in Ovechkin’s native Russia, which is serving as an unofficial Waiting Room while the owners and players sort out their financial differences.

That’s Kontinental — with a K, the way Roger Clemens (father of Koby, Kory, Kacy and Kody) would spell it.

So it goes in sports these days. North America has become the Land of the Lockout. Indeed, it’s almost how we mark time now — 1990 (baseball), 1994-95 (baseball and hockey), 1998-99 (basketball), 2004-05 (hockey), 2011 (football and basketball) and now this latest affront to fandom. (If I’ve left any out, let me know. It’s hard keeping track of them all.)

It’s enough to make you nostalgic for an old-fashioned player strike. Remember those? They used to be in vogue before the owners got preemptive and started raising the drawbridge to their training facilities. Strikes weren’t much fun, either, of course, but there at least seemed to be some cause behind them, be it a more equitable division of the spoils or greater freedom for the players. (That’s the way it was, anyway, in 1982 and ‘87, when the NFL had two work stoppages even closer together than the NHL’s last two.)

Alas, all the big battles have been fought. Recent labor disputes have tended to be about fine-tuning, about recalibrating the system to save the owners from themselves. Not much glory in that. Wake us when it’s over.

Still, the question bears asking: Why do these union-management tiffs in the NHL tend to drag on so long? Sure, baseball lost a World Series once, and other leagues have sacrificed significant chunks of their schedules while they fiddled and diddled at the bargaining table, but only hockey has had an entire season wiped out. (And the league’s 1994-95 lockout, I’ll just remind you, erased 43.8 percent of the games, second-most in sports history.) I mean, are some of the negotiators not fluent in Canadian or something?

There’s no telling, meanwhile, when the current impasse will be resolved. By the time it’s done, the NHL could have the three longest lockouts in sports history. Now there’s something to build a marketing campaign around. (In fact, since teams already have announced plans — after canceling some preseason games — to return money to fans, the campaign could be something along the lines of: The NHL. We put the fun in refund.)

In Washington, fortunately, we have other things to keep us occupied during this latest hockey hiatus. The Nationals are closing in on their first division title (and expanding their constituency at every turn), and the Redskins are generating all kinds of hoo-hah with Robert Griffin III at quarterback. It’s going to be extremely easy hereabouts to forget about the Capitals and the NHL, at least until Windshield Scraper Season. And by then — who knows? — maybe the Wizards will be watchable.

You can understand Ovechkin’s pique. He’s already lost one season to a lockout (he could have played in ‘04-05 at the age of 19), and now he might lose another year of his prime (or a large part of it). And that ain’t the half of it. In a conference call Wednesday that included Washington Times colleague Stephen Whyno, Ovie said, “If the league decides to cut our salaries and cut our contracts I don’t know how many guys will be coming back.”

Empty talk? Mere stick rattling? Probably. But it’s clear the marquee players — and Ovechkin is still one of them, despite his drop-off of late — aren’t too thrilled about the possibility of another salary rollback on top of the 24-percent cut after the last lockout.

The two sides have “exchanged proposals,” as the saying goes, and I’ve got a pretty good idea of what each is proposing to the other. (I just can’t say it in a family newspaper.) That’s why it’s difficult to be optimistic about a quick settlement.

In other words, this might not be the last time I have to refer to him as “Dynamo Moscow winger Alex Ovechkin.”

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