We all know it's coming.
After weeks of failed negotiations, more rhetoric than most political campaigns, and more finger-pointing than in the Green Bay Packers secondary, the NHL is on the verge of yet another work stoppage.
Saturday is the end of the current collective bargaining agreement. There is nothing from the owners to make us believe they will allow the season to start on time under its terms, despite the players' stated willingness to play under those terms. There is nothing from the players to make us think they are anywhere near taking what the owners are offering for a new CBA.
While the sides squabble over how to split a revenue pie that amounts in the billions of dollars, legions of people continue to sit on the sideline, forgotten by both.
And whether you want to blame the owners or players for the position we sit in yet again, one thing is certain: The people getting jobbed by this whole thing don't run the teams, and they don't skate, pass, hit, or shoot.
The people most affected by the imminent work stoppage are probably those who draw all or most of their income from the playing of the games. The arena employees who need games to work at in order to make what they need to make. The concession workers who are in the same boat. Team employees who will inevitably see layoffs or cuts in pay during the lockout.
Players and owners are important, but it's the team employees and game day staff who make this thing go off seamlessly as it usually does. Without that engine, the NHL machine is missing a lot.
You'd think team owners would understand that. These guys didn't make their millions (or billions) by being idiots who don't have a basic grasp of the world around them.
But when it comes CBA time in the NHL, it seems that a lot of people struggle to see anything past their hood ornaments.
The players aren't innocent here, either. There's been no urgency on either side of the proverbial aisle to make a deal. But the players have a safety net. In October, they receive escrow checks that will total eight percent of their salaries from last season. Since players aren't paid in the preseason, they won't miss any checks until October, and they're already guaranteed to get eight percent of what they made last year.
Will the players feel enough urgency to make something good happen before they start missing income? Will the owners realize that a lot of people are counting on these games being played for their incomes? Can the sides sit down together for more than a couple hours at a time?
This isn't about blame. Thousands of people depend on the NHL for their livelihood. For them, it doesn't matter whose fault this lockout is. It matters that the lockout ends.
For the NHL's dedicated fans, it doesn't matter whose fault it is, either. Hockey has experienced real growth over the years, becoming a much more attractive option for television networks. The ratings are growing, and a lockout might not help that much. However, as the NBA proved this past spring and summer, the ratings will be there as long as the games are happening. A late start didn't hurt the association one bit, and there's no reason to think the NHL would be significantly harmed as long as it starts its season in time for the Winter Classic.
Of course, that might not be helping matters much. Why bother working hard to get a deal done now, when you have until as late as mid-December before the Winter Classic would be in jeopardy?
At some point, this will get done. And we can all hope it's before this lockout -- millionaires fighting over money -- has a serious affect on people who no one involved in the lockout is bothering to think about.