When the owners all but guaranteed a lockout with their joke of a CBA proposal this summer, I was asked the same question by pretty much everyone I spoke to outside of work: "How long do you think it’s going to last?"
Depending on how much I wanted to explain, I would give one of two answers. To those who seemed interested, I would say Nov. 23, citing the first NBC game between the Bruins and Rangers as a game the league wouldn’t want to lose. To those who were just asking for the sake of asking, I would say the whole season, citing that it was the NHL, and it seemed like a very NHL thing to do.
But deep down, in the days and hours leading up to 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 15 – a Saturday night, because a friend called for (and was denied) a midnight toast to me being free on Saturday nights for the time being -- I thought it was the latter. I thought the combination of people like Jeremy Jacobs (all about the bottom line) and Donald Fehr (all about “winning” negotiations), plus hearing everywhere that players "wouldn’t give in this time" made for a disastrous scenario that easily could cost the league yet another season. A common term used by people on both sides was "cautiously optimistic," but my mindset was more realistically pessimistic.
But, like most things, I didn’t know. I proceeded with the mindset that anything could happen, and when the owners offered a still-pretty-terrible-but-not-abhorrent deal that would save an 82-game season in October, I was surprised. When the owners offered a $300 million make-whole earlier this month, I was surprised. When that didn’t turn into a deal within days, I was really surprised, but again, this is the NHL and it’s Donald Fehr. Predictably, it’s been a mess.
The lockout has been strange. Rather than going to Ristuccia Arena, the Garden or wherever each day, life as a locked-out beat writer has been similar to that of life as a locked-out non-superstar player: A lot of waiting, doing this and that to pass the time. Shawn Thornton has been skating and working out to stay in game shape; I’ve been doing daily editing shifts while keeping up on labor negotiations, catching up with players when possible and contributing the occasional Patriots column. My closet of suits that I wear to games is collecting dust, which is a real shame considering I’ve been sitting on a pretty insane pocket square I acquired over the summer.
Before home games, I used to get a 20-ounce bottle of Canada Dry ginger ale from the vending machine on the third floor of the Garden before taking the elevator up to the press level on the ninth floor. It became a bit of a habit, so much so that when the Bruins were facing the Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals -- undoubtedly the best game I have and will ever cover in my lifetime -- and the machine was out of Canada Dry, the Bruins PR folks (the best and most superstitious people in the world) sent an intern to get me a bottle for the game. That bottle, along with a sign that reads "Courtesy of B's PR" probably is my favorite memento from that Stanley Cup-winning season.
Now think of this as the NHL lockout equivalent of a character in a movie wearing a sweater and reading glasses to convey aging: While on a who-am-I-kidding health kick over the summer, I quit drinking soda and haven’t had a drop since. If and when hockey returns, I’ll have a cup of water there at my seat, acting as the proverbial sweater and reading glasses. That and a potentially out-of-fashion pocket square.
I think there will be an NHL this season because I think the remaining issues -- length of contracts, length of CBA, etc. -- are too trivial. I think both sides need to move a little more (and that means Fehr swallowing his pride a little; that’s the biggest remaining wild card in my eyes) and that they will when the clock really starts ticking in the opening days of the new year.
Of course, with things standing the way they are, your guess is literally as good as mine regarding whether that happens. If I’m wrong, it won’t be the first or last time.
All in all, I’ll admit I could have planned better for the lockout had I known it would have lasted this long, as there’s plenty I could have done differently. Here are a few such things.
LEARN EIGHT LANGUAGES
It would be impressive to be better than Zdeno Chara at something.
WATCH EVERY TOM HANKS MOVIE
Perhaps the saddest goal of all time, and one I would have had time to accomplish during the lockout if I wanted to. Including movies in which he voiced characters ("Toy Story," etc.). Hanks has been in 38 movies that have been released, 19 of which I’ve already seen (not because I’m a huge Tom Hanks fan or anything, but because everyone has seen at least 19 Tom Hanks movies. Go ahead, count ‘em). Thus far, 42 Bruins games have been canceled. Therefore, if I simply watched a Tom Hanks movie every time I should have been covering a Bruins game, I could have seen every Hanks movie by Nov. 27.
DO A ‘NASHVILLE’ RUNNING DIARY
One sign that the lockout has left me with too much time is that I’ve watched way too much TV. Before the lockout, I watched enough as it was – "Parks and Recreation," "Mad Men," "Walking Dead," cough "New Girl" cough – but these days it’s gotten embarrassing. My roommate (a diehard Canadiens fan who at least doesn’t have to watch his team lose as much as it figured to this season) and I have watched the ABC drama "Nashville" since the season premiere this fall, which is bad because previously I didn’t know season premieres actually were shown; I thought a show just existed in space for a couple of months, and then after enough people told you to watch it, you watched it.
That’s not how it works, as we have watched every episode of "Nashville" -- which is about an aging country singer (played by Connie Britton) trying to prove to her rich father and a changing music landscape that she still can be a chart-topper while fending off the younger, poppier Taylor Swift/Carrie Underwood type played by Hayden Panettiere -- with minimal use of the DVR required.
This time of year, the TV in our apartment usually is used to watch NHL 24/7 on HBO, and I write a running diary during each episode that I post and update on WEEI.com throughout the episode. It’s an easy post to do (literally just write everything I otherwise would have tweeted and promptly been unfollowed for), but it’s a lot of fun. Had I known the lockout would allow for it to be a regular post, I would have planned on a "Nashville" running diary on WEEI.com. I can’t imagine many people outside of Mike Mutnansky (another big fan of the show; and seriously, if you don’t watch it, it’s actually quite good) would read it, but it would keep me busy and keep the blog populated.
RANK THE TOP FIVE POP CHRISTMAS SONGS
Still time for that. I won’t include heavily covered standards and instead will focus on originals (though the bassline in the Jackson 5’s cover of “Up on the Housetop” is a Christmas miracle unlike any other), while giving a cutoff of 1960 since many pop songs from before then ("Jingle Bell Rock," etc.) are standards anyway by now.
1. Donny Hathaway, "This Christmas" -- The top spot on my list shows some strong bias, as Donny Hathaway’s voice is unparalleled in my book (or, more accurately, self-indulgent column).
2. John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band, "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" -- That chord progression is the most Christmasy chord progression ever despite having nothing to do with anything until 1971. It's like knowing the high five didn't exist until the late '70s.
3. The Beach Boys, "Little Saint Nick" -- There’s a really good chance I heard John Denver and the Muppets’ cover of this before I heard the original.
4. Mariah Carey, "All I Want for Christmas Is You" -- Yeah, I get sick when I hear it, too, but this was Mariah Carey at the top of her game. Given how far she’s fallen, this song serves an important purpose by at least reminding people once a year (and informing youngsters) that Carey once was of the greats. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out our old friends from the Belfast Giants (whom the Bruins played in the 2010 preseason) celebrating the holidays with this tune.
5. Elton John, "Step Into Christmas" -- I’m a big Elton fan, but I really love this song because of how comically Phil Spector it sounds despite Phil Spector having nothing to do with its production. Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)" -- which was produced by Spector -- just misses the cut here.
One last thought while we’re on the subject: For every good rendition of "Baby, It’s Cold Outside," there are about 3,000 bad ones. The worst one has to be Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton, but there are far too many contenders in that category. Aysh.
The lockout should be over with soon enough, and that will mean a lot of happy hockey fans and a lot of busier hockey writers. The sides probably will meet in the middle on length of contracts (probably a six- or seven-year max), while the players should just concede the length of the CBA (who in the world cares enough about that for it to cost a season?). If they agree, fans will be glad to have hockey back and frustrated that it took them this long. C’est la NHL.
That’s my guess, at least. If they keep dilly-dallying and end up losing yet another season of hockey, you can expect a "Nashville" running diary on WEEI.com sometime around mid-January. Happy holidays.