The NHL is currently locked out. Last week, negotiations between the league and the Players Association took place at the Times Square Westin. While one end of the floor was set aside for the owners and players, a conference room was saved for the media. Roughly 50 reporters arrived at 9 am, and plugged into official league-branded power strips. Nobody had any idea that it was about to be a fifteen-hour marathon full of pretty much everything but actual journalism.
After roughly twelve hours in the hotel, the writers began to crack. Desperation filled the workroom. Nothing noteworthy had occurred since commissioner Gary Bettman’s 26 second-statement around 1 pm. Hotel employees were dismantling the press conference stage. Suddenly, a large black crate rolled down the hallway. Spray-painted on the side in block letters was “NHL Podium.”
Within minutes, Bettman’s infamous podium was set up in the front of the room. Starved for news, the horde swarmed. Pictures were snapped, then tweeted. The assumption was the commissioner would soon speak. He did not, but something more important happened.
tWithin minutes, NHL Podium was everywhere on twitter. A parody account, @NHLpodium, was created and has over 9,000 followers by the time the reporters went home. Debates began over whether it was truly a podium or merely a lectern. Reporters lined up, taking pictures behind it, posing like children at Disney World.
A couple of hours later, the buzz had died down and was replaced by midnight malaise. Writers milled around the common area, staring down the cordoned off hallway leading to the meeting rooms. Suddenly, a hotel employee appeared, with a basket of cookies. Minutes later, he returned with a second basket of pound cake. Was it a bribe? Did the league officials have a Marie Antoinette moment and grant the 4th estate some cake? Frankly no one really cared.
After roughly 10 minutes, Steve Fehr emerged from the
torture chamb negotiation rooms. He approached the media bearing not news, but a pizza. Yes, the number two man in the Players Association was a delivery boy. What was his motive? “You can’t spell pizza without P.A.,” one reporter quipped.
The media happened to be next to the bathrooms, which were frequented by players. Over the course of the night, Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightening made at least 5 trips. Rumor had it that he didn’t wash his hands.
Later, Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller was escorted to the restroom by Florida enforcer George Parros. Perhaps Miller feared that Milan Lucic could be hiding in a stall to concuss him again.
The clock passed midnight; everything cracked. One reporter tried to organize a giant limbo competition in the common area. Another contemplated the possibility of a media walk out. A third, perhaps the wisest, asked where he could buy beer at this hour.
After the meetings broke up, NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr appeared down the left-most hallway leading to the common area. The media swarmed, snapping pictures and shouting questions. Little did anyone realize that he was only a ruse; while Fehr joked that the reporters should just go home, several players snuck down the other hallway and ran towards the escalators. Clearly the negotiation is taking so long because Fehr’s brilliant mind is dedicated to Benny Hill-style schemes, rather than making a deal.
As of 1:27 a.m., everything finished. The podium was finally used by Deputy-Comissioner Bill Daly, who spoke for 46 seconds. Combined with Bettman’s morning remarks gives a total of 72 seconds of statements on the day. He divulged nothing and quite literally did not give reporters the time of day, when they asked about when meetings would reconvene.
15 hours had yielded no significant quotes. No progress was made in the negotiations and the hockey world’s attitude can be summed up in one episode from the night. You know it’s bad when a podium is the star at an NHL meeting. It was probably the most fun a bunch of hockey writers and their Twitter followers could have on a Wednesday night…short of you know, playing hockey.