ROSEMONT, Ill. - Nearly 12,000 Chicago Blackhawks fans were treated to a high-scoring charity hockey fix Friday night, while the real game was the posturing between the NHL and its locked-out players.
Members of the Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup team skated against a squad made up of a grab bag of other NHL players, including Anaheim's Bobby Ryan, Carolina's Jordan Staal and Minnesota defenceman Ryan Suter.
For the record, the Blackhawks lost 16-15 in a shootout, but Chicago star Patrick Kane had five goals.
But after the NHL cancelled games through November earlier Friday, much of the buzz at the Allstate Arena—home of the AHL's Chicago Wolves—focused on the work stoppage.
The lockout has claimed 326-regular-season contests and the NHL maintains playing a full 82-game schedule is no longer possible after a league-imposed deadline for a deal with the NHLPA passed.
Leading the conversation was NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, who met with players earlier in the day. Fehr and players say the NHL's primary negotiation tactic seems to be stall—and follow a scripted timetable.
"Nothing they've done over the several past weeks has been very much of a surprise," Fehr said. "It looks like that's what's been done in the other disputes in the other sports. It's a shame, I think, and hopefully we'll finally get down to serious negotiations one of these days."
Last week, the NHL offered a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues, which exceeded $3 billion last season, but that proposal was rejected by the union. The players responded with three counteroffers, all of which would get the sides to a 50-50 deal, but the league quickly turned them down.
Reaching a new deal potentially became even tougher Friday, because the NHL pulled off the table its most recent offer to the players. The NHL proposal was contingent on the league playing a full 82-game season, beginning on Nov. 2, which now won't happen.
But simply, Fehr said the NHL is continues to posture, not talk.
"All the deadlines that have been imposed have been NHL-imposed," he said. "We never saw a reason for a lockout to start with. A lockout ought to be treated the way the players treat a strike, which as an absolute last resort, not a bargaining tactic of first resort, which it was here - and what it was in basketball and what it was in football.
"What is the articulated reason that (salary) concessions are being asked for, except that, 'Well, this is what happened in basketball?'" he added. "Or the other one is, 'We want an opportunity for everybody to make a fair profit.'
"What's a fair profit? Who's not making it? And if that's the issue, why is the proposal to lower the salaries on Toronto the same time you do it on Phoenix?"
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews sees the same pattern.
"I saw it in the meeting room last week," Toews said. "Don and everyone worked very hard in coming up with those three different proposals and they (the NHL) didn't even have the courtesy to look at it for more than five minutes or even to discuss it. As has been proven over time, they're just on a timeline and they're waiting to see how much they can squeeze us for."
Ryan flew in from California for the game—which benefitted Ronald McDonald House Charities—for an update from Fehr and talk to fellow players.
"When you have to move deadline and dates back it's a little bit of a Debbie Downer, I guess is the best way to put it," Ryan said.
Ryan says he's quickly getting the sense of the tone of the talks.
"I think it's orchestrated and probably overly done," he said. "I think there's a lot of drama you can put away if both sides step up and get it done."
Kane echoed the sentiment, saying he wasn't surprised by the league-imposed deadline and claim that an 82-game schedule was no longer possible
"Any day they were doing to come out with cancellations," Kane said. "We knew it was coming." Fehr isn't sure, however, that a full 82 schedule is yet out of the picture if talks resume.
"I don't know," he said. "All I can tell you is when a deal is reached, we hope that both sides make the maximum effort to but back together the largest number of games that are physically possible to do."
Ryan just wants to see fans back in NHL arenas as soon as possible, considering the entire 2004-05 season was lost to a labour dispute.
"The fans came back and you can't have a lockout twice in a fans memory," he said. "Some fans may not come back this time."