In the classic comedy Groundhog Day, Bill Murray re-lives the same nightmarish day until he finally changes his ways and gets his life straight. As the National Hockey League lockout nears it’s third week, several New Jersey Devils players are venting their frustration with the stalemate that appears to show no signs of breaking any time soon. It’s a scenario that’s eerily reminiscent of the 2004 debacle in which the entire season was lost, and when the NHL announced that regular season games up to October 24 would be canceled, many players and fans alike felt like they were being awoken by that terrible Sonny & Cher song and forced to re-live an awful day all over again.
“I’ve been through once of these before, so how everything is going is exactly how I expected it to be going,” Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador said. “I’m just more disappointed that it’s taken the same course that it did last time. It seems like ownership is following a script and they’ve got a date and I just hope this time it’s not the whole season.”
Indeed, the script is something that the players and fans have watched very closely, comparing this version to the 2004 one, which led the NHL straight to the unthinkable. The major difference, of course, is that the NHLPA is now headed by none other than Donald Fehr, former head of the Major League Baseball Player’s Association and a veteran of baseball’s collective bargaining wars that have made baseball’s players union the strongest in professional sports.
Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg, who has spent 11 seasons in the NHL, had this reaction after sitting in on a negotiating session between the player’s association and the league:
“I learned how to find 100 different words to say the same thing without saying anything.”
Not good news for the hockey-starved public or his fellow players.
Although Hedberg had a somewhat cerebral view of the negotiations (really, what can you expect from a goaltender?) his teammate, Krys Barch, had a decidedly different view. Considering that Barch is an enforcer, his take, posted September 29 in an alcohol-induced twitter rant, was what we’d expect: angry and raw (Barch mentioned that he had consumed eight beers and was working on a bottle of wine in one tweet).
“Some times wondering if I should have existed when a word and a gun solidified and solved all problems. I feel the Wild West would more simplified than the world we live in now when an employer who makes billions of dollars and a league with record revenues can tell me that I can’t do the things that my heart tells my me to do! All what my heart tells me to do far surpasses what my body has endured,” Barch tweeted. His choice of words, especially conjuring up images of guns solving problems, was in poor taste, but reading Barch’s tweets one can feel the frustration and the desire to get back to work from a 37 year-old fighter who has racked up 669 penalty minutes in 304 NHL games.
Meanwhile, other Devils players have preferred to head to Europe and sign professional contracts in Russia and Sweden. Ilya Kovalchuk, for one, signed with the Russian Kontinental Hockey League’s SKA St. Petersburg franchise just three days after the lockout. Others, including Anton Volchenkov, are certain to follow as more NHL games are canceled. Teammate Marek Zidlicky, a key acquisition down the stretch last season, has been playing in his native Czech Republic for HC Kladno of the Czech Extraliga.
So, the league is stonewalling and the players are frustrated. For the fans, there’s not much to do but sit and wait, hoping that the two sides come to some sort of an agreement before the hockey version of mutually-assured destruction .
Hey, there’s always soccer!
On the second thought, I think I’d rather watch a groundhog crawl out of a hole.