As NHL Lockout Nears 100 Days, Capitals Cannot Fathom Losing Another Season

Local hockey fans were able to get their fix Friday as members of the Washington Capitals played a scrimmage against area college players at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

Capitals defenseman John Carlson organized the game and promoted it on Twitter. Joining him were teammates Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle and Brooks Laich as well as former teammate/New York Rangers forward Jeff Halpern and former Cap Peter Bondra. After the game, they signed autographs and took pictures with fans who lined up in the lobby to catch what has unfortunately become a rare glimpse of their favorite players as a result of the ongoing NHL lockout, which reached 97 days Friday.

The NHL and NHL Players' Assocation have not formally met since Dec. 13, when another round of talks involving mediators failed to bring the two sides any closer to reaching a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement. The league canceled all games through Jan. 14 Thursday; just over half of the originally-scheduled games -- 625 in total -- have been lost.

"We've got to sit down and hammer things out," Chimera said. "We're still not that far apart. It's just a matter of getting it done. We want to sit down, they don't even want to meet. It's disappointing.

"For whatever reason, [the NHL is] bent out of shape on [NHLPA executive director] Donald Fehr as a big enemy," he continued. "I don't know if [NHL commissioner Gary Bettman] feels intimidated that he’s kind of met his match maybe, because [Fehr] is as smart a guy as he is or something like that. I don't know if he's just pissed off and has a personal vendetta against him, but your personal vendetta, you're ruining a lot of people's lives."

The players began voting earlier this week to give the NHLPA's executive board authorization to file a disclaimer of interest, which would dissolve the union and allow players to file antitrust lawsuits. If the players ultimately vote to move forward with decertifying (which they reportedly have), the NHLPA has until Jan. 2 to file the disclaimer.

In response, the league filed a class action complaint in New York federal court to confirm the legality of the lockout as well as an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that "by threatening to ‘disclaim interest,’ the NHLPA has engaged in an unlawful subversion of the collective bargaining process and conduct that constitutes bad faith bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act.”

Whether or not the two sides come to a deal or decide to cancel the 2012-13 season remains to be seen, but time is running out. It is believed that if a deal is not made before the latest round of cancellations ends Jan. 14, the next cancellation will be the last one and yet another season will be scrapped. 

Either way, according to Laich, who returned to North America to celebrate Christmas with his family after spending the last few months playing in Switzerland, the damage to the NHL may be irreversible.

"I've talked to fans that've said they're not coming back. I've talked to people that say, 'Yeah, they'll probably be back,' and there's your diehards that will always be back," he said. "Hockey was on the up for seven straight years. Record revenues, record attendance, the game was doing so well. And with so many good young talented players, so many superstars. And now it's like we just discarded it all. I wish that the people who were in power to make decisions regarding the game of hockey really cared about the game of hockey and not the business side of it. We understand it's a business, but it's also a game and it means a lot to a lot of people and it means jobs for a lot of people. We're huritng a lot of people by not playing.

"We've gotta play hockey, man," he continued. "We have to play. The NHL's the only sport of the four major sports in North America to ever lose a season to a lockout. I don't know how we can possibly do that twice in eight years. I cannot understand or fathom the idea of losing two seasons in eight years. It will be an absolute disgrace. It'll be a terrible black eye on the sport of hockey."

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