Haggerty: Dark days ahead as sides break off talks

Haggerty: Dark days ahead as sides break off talks
October 2, 2012, 6:44 pm
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NORTH SMITHFIELD, R.I. Dark days are indeed ahead for the NHL, and those that love it so dearly.

The NHL and NHLPA broke off talks on Tuesday with no progress serving as the biggest buzzword emanating out of the meetings in New York City. There was ample evidence that both sides are ready to move on to heightening their defenses rather than continue working to find some very elusive middle ground.

Thats the very definition of the word "discouraging."

The NHL released its first revenue loss projections due to the lockout, and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the league will lose roughly 100 million due to the cancellation of the preseason.

But it gets even gloomier than that.

Whispers have kicked up in Canada, largely due to the sports radio megaphone enjoyed by Toronto radio host Billy Watters, that the NHL could begin setting into motion plans for replacement players if theres no end in sight for the lockout. Its a far-fetched notion that would appear to be patently illegal in places like Quebec and Alberta, so theres that.

But just the mention conjures up images from when the NHL last utilized replacement players, or worse, a bad Keanu Reeves movie.

At the very least, the NHL is expected to begin cancelling regular season games over the next couple of days with the Oct. 11 NHL regular season debut an impossible task at this point.

One player on the AHLNHL bubble that would likely be asked to take part in any theoretical replacement player scenario was quick and forthright in their response when asked if they would cross over.

Theres no way. That kind of thing stays with you for your entire career, said the player. Guys want to make it to the NHL the right way and be accepted by the brotherhood of players. That would never happen for anybody that crossed the lines while the lockout is going on. Good luck finding players willing to do that.

And good luck to finding customers willing to pay NHL prices to watch a patently inferior project.

In another move thats going to sting the NHL and commissioner Gary Bettman, ESPN and the KHL have reached an agreement on a plan to televise Russian League hockey games and give fans an outlet to watch familiar NHL players like Zdeno Chara. The KHL games will be broadcast starting this week on ESPN3, which is a live stream channel not offered as part of the cable packages.

But the mere action of ESPN getting involved with a competing pro hockey league has to deepen the concern of Bettman and the NHL owners no matter how mild it is that the hockey consumer is ready for life to go on without the NHL. In the age of live-streaming video, satellite television and 100 percent coverage of everything under the sun on the Internet along with minor league and college hockey, diehard puck fans will find another outlet while the owners and players prepare for battle over a billion dollars.

So both the NHL and NHLPA camps have decided to go their separate ways for the time-being with the start of the regular season less than two weeks away. They cant agree on what constitutes the all-important Hockey Related Revenue and, according to CBC rink side reporter Elliotte Friedman, they cant even agree on who foots the bill for NHL players with over 600 games played that are guaranteed their own single hotel room on the road per the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

That is crazy given that the NHL raked in 3.3 billion last season, and that much more important things sit on the brink of obscurity.

Granted its not all something out of a disaster flick with Bettman and his Board of Governors hellbent on breaking the unions back, however.

The NHL acknowledged that a federal mediator might get involved if things continue on the same untracked pace for the next few weeks, and the league could still pull off an 82-game season provided a new CBA is in place by the first week of November.

But things must feel pretty real for Bruins fans as they watch key players like Chara and Patrice Bergeron pick up stakes, and head for Europe to play hockey until something breaks stateside. That wouldnt be happening if there was an end to the money madness in sight.

And when the first regular season games of a promising NHL season get chopped away this week, fans will likely be left with that same empty, hollow feeling for the second time in eight years.