NEW YORK (AP) _ The National Hockey League plans to raise banners in empty arenas across North America later this year commemorating a potential third lockout, the league announced today.
As part of an evening-long celebration to be broadcast nowhere, the NHL will honor its longstanding dedication to shutting itself down by raising the number "3" to the rafters.
While the possibility of a full season being played still exists -- the NHLPA even made its first counterproposal today -- commissioner Gary Bettman said last week that if a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is not agreed to with the Players Association by Sept. 15th, the league will not continue under the current deal, paving the way for a third owner-led work stoppage.
"The work stoppage has been synonymous with the NHL since 1992 and is one of our most notable and famous qualities," said Bettman. "Having a third work stoppage during my tenure as commissioner is something I'm very proud of and we plan to celebrate that number by giving it a place of honor."
Over an 18-year stretch, the lockout has become a hallmark of the NHL. What started as an auspicious debut over a half season became a consistent threat year after year. The modern NHL's identity formed around the work stoppage and the cancelling of games came to define the league's style of play.
"Work stoppages and retired numbers are indelible parts of NHL history and we are ecstatic to finally meld the two," the commissioner said. "With a third labor dispute so close we can taste it, now is the best time to laud this huge part of our character and honor their accomplishments in this special way."
Capitalizing on the excitement of the 10-day players' strike in 1992, the lockout first burst onto the NHL scene in 1994, when revenue sharing, a rookie salary cap and concerns over the value of the Canadian dollar took the league by storm. During its shortened rookie season, the lockout totaled an impressive 468 games lost, as well as a phantom All Star Game.
But the lockout's best performance was 2004-05, when it avoided the proverbial sophomore slump. During that illustrious season the NHL became the first North American professional sports league to lose an entire schedule to a labor dispute, a record that still stands today. The lockout's spectacular 310-day, 10-month non-season saw 1,230 games cancelled, another All Star Game postponed and a Stanley Cup Final squashed for the first time since the influenza epidemic of 1919.
At that year's end, the NHL took home an armload of awards including a salary cap, a 24% rollback of player salaries, a greater slice of hockey generated revenue and a pair of Burton Awards for Legal Achievement, one for Outstanding Contribution to Infuriating Sports Law and another for Best Use of Binding Legalese (non-medical division).
During this summer, the lockout decided to sign on for one final season, giving fans and media a last chance to remember the legal threats and contract impasses of the glory years.
The banner-raising ceremonies will take place in all 30 NHL arenas and will include video tributes to negotiating meetings as well as special guest speakers from the league's legal team. Special gifts include engraved plaques, framed jerseys signed by commissioner Bettman, a free lifetime complimentary privileges to Comcast cable and Little Caesar's Pizza, and brand new mountain bikes courtesy of Schwinn.
No fans or players are expected to attend the banner raisings since the arena doors will be locked. However, gifts will instead be presented to any NHL owner that agrees to appear at their team's ceremony, and letters with special "Lockout 2012: Let's Not Play III" stationary will be sent to season ticket holders thanking them for their investment.
Although Bettman prefers the terms "work stoppage," "labor dispute" and "artistic differences" to the word "lockout," he agrees that this latest interrupted season will be the one that finally cements the NHL's legacy.
"Our first work stoppage was an amazing whirlwind experience. We were all so young, I don't think we appreciated it at the time," Bettman said. "The second was something none of us will ever forget. Our dispute was so deep and our team was so strong, we felt we could have kept it going forever.
"This third one will be the icing on the cake. It'll be a chance to finally look back on what we've done and reflect on this very special one-of-a-kind tradition that the NHL has built for itself."
My apologies to the great Ken Daneyko, whose retired jersey at Prudential Center was used as the basis for the terrible photo accompanying this parody.
P.S.: C'mon, enough already with the lockouts.