The Day Before Tomorrow

Thanks to IMDB

Today is the day.

As a consortium of six owners and 18(?) players meet at 2 PM in Times Square, they hold the power to either advance Collective Bargaining Agreement talks or give up and move toward canceling the 2012-13 season.

“We have confirmed with the Union that we will attempt to schedule a players/owners-only meeting for some time on Tuesday afternoon in New York,” NHL Deupty Commissioner Bill Daly said a Tuesday morning statement. “No further details have been confirmed at this point.

The expectation is, depending on the outcome, that the Board of Governors will either delay an action to cancel the remaining schedule or refrain for the time being, once it meets on Wednesday.

“The NHLPA has agreed to a meeting on Tuesday in New York that should facilitate dialogue between players and owners,” union head Donald Fehr said in a joint statement. “Neither the Commissioner nor I will be present, although each side will have a limited number of staff or counsel present.”

It’s nothing but a farce. Thanks to work done by people outside the tight little circles which have dictated the cancellation of more than 400 games, we knew this already.

The owners write their part in the play so they can presumably have public opinion on their side when they offer a proposal which the union will reject. The Commissioner will remind us about the 82-game plan which could have ensured a season is played. The union follows the script by complaining they came as far as they could in compromising while the league still stood firm. They shrug their shoulders in our direction and say the owners have willingly destroyed the season.

How can a positive outcome be assured when the chief figure on the side of the owners is the NHL’s very own Mr. Burns clone, Jeremy Jacobs of the Boston Bruins. Of course, the Chairman of the Board was going to have to attend, and there can be no doubt of that no matter how we feel about the way he conducts business.

The 72-year-old Jacobs is just one of two old-guard owners involved in the process (Murray Edwards of the Calgary Flames is the other), but you have to be a tad pessimistic at his reaction should the other four newbies (Pittsburgh’s Ron Burkle, Tampa’s Jeff Vinik, Mark Chipman of the new Winnipeg franchise and Larry Tanenbaum of the Maple Leafs) try to steer discussions with the players or outright stand up to him behind closed doors, since it’s a sure bet that all six do not represent a unified front.

It could be a recipe for disaster, and may result in the kind of schism some have written about previously, that the underlying theme to the lockout is owners vs. owners. What do the other four have to gain by going against the Chairman? He can make business very miserable for his “small-market” colleagues. Jacobs isn’t broke, he’s cheap, and can very well open up the wallet out of spite in the future to block free agent movement.

What should you read into the selection process? Everything. The six BOGs are ones who have purposely stayed out of the spotlight, unlike Jim Dolan and Ed Snider or Terry Pegula. Mike Ilitch, who has built a lifetime out of restoring the Red Wings to power, appears be too moderate and too powerful for his voice to be heard.

Coming at this from the other side, what does Jacobs have to gain by softening his stance or even listening to his fellow owners or the players who have drained his bank accounts so much that he had to rally the troops to stop the league and try and rescue more money? Like the head of any powerful organization, any perceived sign of weakness will erode his power base and turn the tide against him.

If he is one of the principals driving the length of the lockout and telling other owners and Gary Bettman, it’s highly unlikely that his mind will be changed even by rational discussion in a small group.

While the decision to remove the two titular heads of competing ideologies is a smart move, and reducing the number of players and owners so as not to spoil this rapidly-boiling broth, both sides took a giant step back in agreeing to have Bill Daly and Steve Fehr included in the proceedings. They are nothing more than proxies for the war Bettman and the elder Fehr have waged through the media through all 80 days of this mess. It’s a sad state of affairs when it’s expected that in a “players-owners only” meeting, the expectation is that both sides STILL need legal counsel so that one side isn’t caught “unprepared.”

And who are the most level-headed of the players chosen to sit at the other side of the table?

Sidney Crosby, a player so rich and so fundamental to the existence of his franchise that he was able to dictate his yearly salary which reflected his jersey number? Where can common ground be found even sitting across from the man who helped authorize his hefty pay day? Jonathan Toews has been sussed out as a hard-liner from the players’ perspective, so what could be said from his end, or the opposite, that would alter his perception? If it’s true that Ryan Miller is involved and not just wandering around Manhattan this afternoon, what good will his input provide, as he was previously quoted favoring a union decertification?

We also know little-to-nothing about the remaining 15: Jamal Mayers, Manny Malhotra, Andy McDonald, George Parros, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Kevin Westgarth, Craig Adams, David Backes, Michael Cammalleri, B.J. Crombeen, Mathieu Darche, Shane Doan, Ron Hainsey and Shawn Horcoff.

Forget about the move to think outside the box. For real progress to be made, there has to  to be the right combination of owners and players present, and it simply isn’t there, from either side — unless there’s a lot left unsaid and even more uncovered by the men and women who hook us up with the details on a daily basis. My bet is that they’ve done their due diligence.

I’ve read passages which suggest the true essence of compromise means that the situation is resolved with both parties unhappy with some part of the decision. If federal mediators can’t get things moving, it’s highly unlikely that a deus ex machina can be found in a little room with 26 people.