Sunday, March 9, 2014
BOSTON - For Bruins fans, there has never been less to be thankful for.
This is supposed to be the time of year where hockey steps into the forefront.
The traditional noon faceoff the day after Thanksgiving is nationally televised. HBO usually begins its "24/7" countdown to the Winter Classic just after that.
Friday's matinee was supposed to bring the New York Rangers to town in an Original Six matchup of Stanley Cup hopefuls.
A day later, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins were supposed to take the Garden ice.
Instead, it's the ultimate Black Friday for B's fans.
There is plenty of blame to go around. NHL owners are once again threatening to cancel an entire season for the second time in eight years.
They won the battle in 2004-05, but the deal they put in place couldn't last a decade.
Now they're trying to force more pay cuts down the throats of the players while taking some free agent and arbitration rights to boot.
The players, meanwhile, might have been able to avoid some of this had their house been in order two years ago.
Led by a small group of players, the NHL Players' Association ousted Executive Director Paul Kelly and did not have a union chief last summer when the NHLPA had to make a decision on a two-year union option on the existing contract.
That would've been a much better time to tackle some of these issues, but without leadership the union had no choice but to extend the current agreement for another year.
Now the union has Donald Fehr as its chief, a tough negotiator who once led the major league baseball players through a strike and the ultimate cancellation of the World Series.
The union waited too long to dive into the issues of the existing collective bargaining agreement; the owners misjudged the solidarity and dedication of the union under Fehr. Now the Cold War continues.
Here in Boston, this is a far tougher work stoppage to stomach than the last one.
In 2004 we were riding high in the wake of the first Red Sox championship in 86 years, the Patriots were on their way to another Super Bowl and the Bruins didn't seem like much of a contender.
Now we are just 17 months removed from an exhilarating run to the Stanley Cup.
The Bruins have locked up a young core of players that should keep this team in contention for years. Fans can't wait for the return of hockey.
Yet wait is what we must do. And there's not end to that wait in sight.
"A lot of people are very excited about our team. We're excited about our team," Bruins President Cam Neely told me in a NESN interview last week. "It's frustrating for them, it's frustrating for us, it's frustrating for everyone."
Neely knows how difficult these negotiations can be.
He went through them as a Hall of Fame player, watched them as a television analyst and now sits with management as team president.
He says he remains optimistic that a deal can get done soon. He's in the minority.
It's not too late to put this behind us.
A quick agreement would bring hockey back by Christmas -- that's when the NBA returned from its work stoppage last year and it was long forgotten by playoff time.
Hockey fans are the most loyal fan in sports.
For many years, Bruins fans were amongst the most tortured in the game.
Sitting around while their team is unable to play -- when it has finally risen to the top of the league -- is the most sinister torture of all.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.