Lockout won't end by itself

Originally Published: January 7, 2005
By Terry Frei | Special to ESPN.com

Don't just sit there. DO SOMETHING!

With time winding down to save a semblance of a season and the most exhilarating playoff run in professional sports, the challenge applies to everyone even remotely connected to the National Hockey League lockout.

Don't give us that junk about how it's the other side's turn to make a bona fide proposal -- unlike the other side's previous ridiculous and insulting proposal.

But that's what we have been hearing, both before and after the NHL announced on Thursday the cancellation of the scheduled Jan. 14 board of governors meeting in New York. The meeting date, announced two weeks ago, failed to nudge the NHL Players' Association into splintering, capitulating or -- at the very least -- offering another proposal that comes closer to accepting the league's demand for payroll ceilings linked to a percentage of revenues.

Previously, the widespread presumptions had been that commissioner Gary Bettman would emerge from the New York meeting to announce the cancellation of the 2004-05 season, or to re-emphasize that he had the full backing of the board to take the step in the near future, if he deemed it necessary.

The lack of a meeting wouldn't rule out Bettman making either of those announcements in the near future, but the cancellation of it at least seems to drape some fog over the timetable. The other possibility is that for legal reasons, the NHL never could officially call off the season, but could not call off the lockout and allow the calendar to provide the final answers.

Regardless, this is big business, reduced to childish, playground silliness:

"You first."
"No, you first."
"Nuh, uh."
"Hurry up, recess is almost over!"

Then again, even petulant children talk with one another and don't issue their challenges through the media. These are adults on the playground, threatening to hit each other with their briefcases.

Don't tell us Bettman, Bob Goodenow, Bill Wirtz, Ted Saskin, Trevor Linden or Jeremy Jacobs are not only obdurate obstructionists, they also trip little, old ladies crossing the street.

Talk. E-mail. Do lunch. Or as amazing at this concept might be, actually get in the same room for hours and days in a row and negotiate, point-by-point.

Power Point, spread sheets, scribbled notes on the back of envelopes, documents sneaked across the border in diplomatic pouches, rump meetings that circumvent the process. And don't just let the guys in the suits, with reputations allegedly on the line, handle all of this.

Whatever it takes.

Look, we all know life goes on without the NHL, and that a 10-second reflection reminds us where it ranks among real-world priorities. The rhetoric, posturing and finger-pointing is beside the point. It's also boring and maddening.

Don't even expect us to sift through the numbers and take sides. Give us credit. We all assume that both sides can make the numbers say anything, including that Amelia Earhart isn't missing at all, but has made $8.2 million the past five years piloting the Toronto Maple Leafs' charter.

Absolutely, there comes a point when disgust, disdain and even bewilderment boil over and lead to irrational reactions -- even in those who allegedly are supposed to be dispassionately above the fray.

Absolutely, emotionalism often doesn't hold up to point-by-point examination. For one thing, there are signs that the NHL is getting exactly what many within its ranks wanted -- a dark season that can serve as a preamble to a new financial order. For another, when players making millions to play a game whine about a commissioner caring only about money is laugh-inducing ridiculousness, and naively demonizes one man -- rather than a boardroom of diverse owners who at least have given Bettman a general mandate. (And how about those players who have held out four times in their careers, or have moved on because they claim owners are cheapskates if they won't pay $7 million a year, complaining about the owners worrying about money?)

It's this simple: DO SOMETHING!

Wayne Gretzky mused the other day that if this season isn't salvaged, the lockout could go on for two years. Uh, Wayne, like Mario Lemieux, you're an icon and a part-owner with the power to influence both sides. Don't just sit there. Gretzky could hide a loony under the floral arrangement at the center of the table, whether in a restaurant or a hotel meeting room, and when everything is signed, sealed and delivered, hold it up and say it's going right to the Hall of Fame because it helped save the game!

Colorado's Stan Kroenke (Nuggets, Avalanche, Pepsi Center) and Detroit's Mike Ilitch (Tigers, Little Cesar's, Joe Louis Arena) are influential owners, and Kroenke's sports empire and fledgling cable television network are being adversely affected by the lockout. Plus, Kroenke also is part-owner of the St. Louis Rams and knows that the NFL's salary cap is based on non-guaranteed contracts and huge television deals, neither of which apply to hockey; and that the NBA's salary cap has more loopholes than the U.S. tax code.

(Of course, a cynic also might point out that it might not be a good idea to have 30 owners in a room, if one or more are going to dissent, which is one reason to cancel a Jan 14 board of governors meeting.)

Jarome Iginla, Vinny Lecavalier, Chris Drury, Roberto Luongo, Alex Tanguay, Marian Hossa, Tyler Arnason, Brad Stuart ... see the pattern there?

They're the stars of 2010, it's their game and their future.

Sure, some of them have long-term contracts and would be relatively invulnerable to a salary cap, but they're still the future leaders. Lead now. Lead not toward that sort of capitulation or betrayal the league tried to encourage, but toward negotiation and compromise.

Negotiations are not an exchange of notebooks and insults.

That's all we've gotten so far.

The charades have to stop. And the games have to begin. Hockey games.

Meet and get it done.

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of the recently published "Third Down and a War to Go," and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."

Terry Frei

Special to ESPN.com
Terry Frei is a columnist for the Denver Post. He is also the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."

ALSO SEE