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NHL lockout: League delivers message to fans after work stoppage begins

By Brian Stubits | CBSSports.com
The NHL and commissioner Gary Bettman delivers a message to fans, but it feels a little hollow. (Getty Images)

On Saturday night/Sunday morning, the NHL locked out its players until a new collective bargaining agreement can be reached.

For fans, it has a real feeling of being dumped by a significant other. You love the NHL, and then it breaks your heart by parting ways.

To top it all off, the NHL gave fans the "We can still be friends" part of the breakup spiel on Sunday morning, delivering this message to fans.

Despite the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the National Hockey League has been, and remains, committed to negotiating around the clock to reach a new CBA that is fair to the Players and to the 30 NHL teams.

Thanks to the conditions fostered by seven seasons under the previous CBA, competitive balance has created arguably the most meaningful regular season in pro sports; a different team has won the Stanley Cup every year; fans and sponsors have agreed the game is at its best, and the League has generated remarkable growth and momentum. While our last CBA negotiation resulted in a seismic change in the League's economic system, and produced corresponding on-ice benefits, our current negotiation is focused on a fairer and more sustainable division of revenues with the Players -- as well as other necessary adjustments consistent with the objectives of the economic system we developed jointly with the NHL Players' Association seven years ago. Those adjustments are attainable through sensible, focused negotiation -- not through rhetoric.

This is a time of year for all attention to be focused on the ice, not on a meeting room. The League, the Clubs and the Players all have a stake in resolving our bargaining issues appropriately and getting the puck dropped as soon as possible. We owe it to each other, to the game and, most of all, to the fans.

Ah, yes. We're only a few hours into the lockout, and the statements are already in full force. Talking about reaching fair deals (that one makes me laugh), not reaching the end through rhetoric (and what exactly is this message here?) and, most of all, talking about owing it to the fans.

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In the grand scheme, the fans matter very little in this. I'm not going to be cynical enough to state the fans don't matter in some small sense to the negotiators, but it's a very small sense. The point of the negotiations is to reach a deal for their sides, as Phoenix Coyotes forward Paul Bissonnette truthfully pointed out. This is their war; the fans are just a casualty.

Both sides of the equation are guilty of this and will continue to be. Each side will appeal to the fans, hoping to achieve something that I'm not quite sure what. This time around, the support is on the players' sides. But that doesn't accomplish a thing. The majority of people supported the owners in 2004, and we had a full season wiped out. They are meaningless gestures.

It all feels hollow. I'm not aiming this just at the NHL and its statement on Sunday morning; it's at both sides. Their apologies are empty. Their actions speak where their words try. If they felt they owed anything to the fans, then they would have worked harder to reach a deal.

But they know they can do this because some day, when NHL play resumes, the fans will return looking to rekindle that long-lost flame.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @StubitsCBS on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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