Special to Page 2
The high priests of labor and management in the NHL administered last rites to the league's collective bargaining agreement late Wednesday morning, and an announcement of its official death is expected at any minute. A lockout now is a certainty.
The death watch has been at critical mass since last Thursday, when representatives from the owners and the NHLPA failed to reach an agreement at their last-gasp negotiating meeting in Toronto.
Little was made public from that closed-door meeting, beyond both sides agreeing that zero progress was made and another negotiating session wasn't scheduled. Page 2's DJ Gallo, however, spent the day hovering outside the meeting room with his ear to the door. And he heard things -- not things, mind you, that can be attributed; and not things that he documents here verbatim. (That ain't our style, you know.) But he heard things, nonetheless.
Here's what he heard ...
"I understand all of the legal mumbo jumbo in your proposal even less than I understand what the third and fourth columns are for in the NHL win-loss standings."
"Wait, what do you mean Mario Lemieux is on your side? I thought he was on our side!"
"We have to come to an agreement. Our fans will revolt if we don't. You should have seen the tens of thousands of people protesting outside Madison Square Garden a couple of weeks ago."
"They were protesting President Bush, not the NHL, you idiot."
"Reject most of our demands and we'll send Todd Bertuzzi after you. Reject all of our demands and we'll send Mike Danton after you. We're not screwing around. And either way, Tie Domi is going to kick somebody's butt."
"Bettman, stop complaining. If you wanted to see over the table you should have brought your booster chair."
"Here's a proposal: I'll give you $1 million dollars to sleep with me."
"It doesn't matter if their name is derived from hockey or not, 'Five for Fighting' sucks."
"We understand Mr. Bettman's demand that at least one black candidate be interviewed for every available head coaching job. We just don't think it's realistic for the NHL."
"Of course the owners are in the right on this. The players have Satan on their side, for crying out loud!"
"Baseball always goes on strike and it's America's national pastime. We can't go wrong by having a lockout."
"The players' stance is firm: We will not cut our playoff beards until our demands are met."
"The NHL will go bankrupt without a salary cap. We're in such a dire financial situation that we've maxed-out all of our credit cards. We're paying 24.99-percent interest on some of them, people! It's not pretty. Those Discover Card bills are going to bury us."
"The upcoming season is on thin ice."
"Excuse me, but horrible puns aren't going to help anything."
"As we feared, advance sales are not going well for 'EA Sports NHL 2005: CBA Negotiating Extravaganza.'"
"I think we can all agree that the biggest downside of a lockout is that we'll all lose the joy of hearing the name 'Nikolai Khabibulin' throughout the fall and winter."
"Don't force us to move all of our franchises offshore to save on labor costs. We'll do it. No doubt there are Indonesians and Guatemalans or somebody who can play hockey for us a lot cheaper than you guys will."
"Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!"
"Speaking of 'lockout,' does anyone know where I can get the key to the men's bathroom? I've had a lot of coffee today ... "
"Why don't we all just admit how lucky we have it and do what's best for the fans, regardless of what each of us has to concede to get a deal done ... Nah. Just kidding!"
"Look, let's at least set a goal here. Let's agree to get a deal done before Selig decides where the Expos are moving. We ought to be able to do that, don't you think? I mean, doesn't that give us until August 2006?"
"Seriously? Jeremy Roenick paid some guy 10 grand to tell him that he shouldn't bet on there being a season this year? He couldn't figure that out for himself?"
"Whose idea was it to meet in Toronto? Couldn't we have gone to Vegas? Or at least had the meeting at a Hooters or something?"
"Eric Lindros was planning to be here today to read a statement, but he sustained a severe concussion this morning when he turned on his shower and the water hit him in the face."
"The owners need to know the players are serious about being willing to sit out the entire season. I speak for the players, and can say that they will be fine if there is a lockout. Each and every player has made millions of dollars and is financially comfortable beyond their wildest dreams. Crap -- I probably shouldn't have said that."
"End one more sentence with 'Eh' and I'm coming over this table!"
"Just as some people thought that underlying racism made so many people root against the all-black USA men's Olympic basketball team in Athens, we think it was racism that made so many people apathetic about the all-white U.S. hockey team in the World Cup."
"If we agree to scrap the salary cap idea, will you promise that Fedorov or Bure will give me Anna Kournikova's phone number?"
"Sure, we have to be mindful of the ticket-buying public. But like Brett Hull says, who gives a $#*! about the fans?"
"Okay, so we're in agreement. We'll have a lockout for the entire season, wait for every NBA player to test positive for marijuana or get arrested, and then come back and dominate the winter sports scene. And not a word about this to anyone."
D.J. Gallo is a regular contributor to ESPN The Magazine, as well as the founder and sole writer of the award-winning sports satire site SportsPickle.com.