I don't want to jinx anything, but it's beginning to look like the NHL lockout maaaaay be nearing a blessed end. And with the holidays coming up, what better gift for the tortured NHL fans in your life than one that will help them cherish these last few months for ever and ever? We'll never forget the contributions Gary Bettman and Don Fehr made to our lives. But these commemorative lockout trading cards will remind us of some of the other important players who got us into (and, fingers crossed, out of) this big, beautiful mess.
SEASONLESS HIGHLIGHTS: Has been neck and neck with Gary Bettman as the lockout's most villainous character … Josh Yohe reported that "when I ask about Bettman, players kind of shrug. When I ask about Jeremy Jacobs, players get rage in their eyes" … Greg Wyshynski called him the "mean, old NHL lockout bully" … Leads the league in condescension, reportedly dressing down a Winnipeg Jets official during a meeting and dismissing him as one of the "new kids on the block."
CAREER ACTIVITY: Son of "the Godfather of Sports" … A true legend in the industry — in an Industrial Revolution overlord kind of way … Was a notorious tightwad for years, though he's spent to the cap lately and did what was needed to get Boston a Cup … Still, forced team employees to cover taxes of around seven grand for their Stanley Cup rings (some players ended up covering the costs for those who couldn't afford it) … Was ranked the No. 1 Worst Owner in Sports in an ESPN Page 2 poll back in 2001 … Inexplicably taunted Cam Neely during the Bruins' victory parade … Among other things, owns Delaware North, the concessions company used by several NHL teams.
COMPARABLES: C. Montgomery Burns.
OUTLOOK: Perhaps we're in for a Christmas miracle! Former NHL player and Tampa Bay Lightning GM Brian Lawton tweeted on Wednesday that an unlikely owner had emerged as one of the biggest voices of reason: "[M]ost people won't believe it but it is true ……… JEREMY JACOBS," Lawton wrote. Perhaps it's all just a trap, or perhaps Jacobs's heart really did grow three sizes that day. Eh, OR NOT.
SEASONLESS HIGHLIGHTS: Zero goals or assists in zero games played … The face of the NHL has been a willing "face of the lockout" … Expressed frustration with both sides, saying, "It's almost to the point where you don't want to ask because you know you're going to get the same answer you got a week before" … Along with Penguins owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux, is part of a Holy Trinity to which millions of hockey fans (some of them even in Washington and Philadelphia!) are currently praying.
CAREER ACTIVITY: 609 points in 434 games for the Penguins … Helped Canada to an Olympic gold medal and Pittsburgh to a Stanley Cup … Appeared in just 63 games over the past two seasons thanks to the concussion discussed round the world … Was drafted first overall immediately following the last NHL lockout after Pittsburgh won a special lottery … Lived in Mario Lemieux's basement for a weirdly long time.
COMPARABLES: Sid stands alone. (Just ask Paul Steigerwald!)
OUTLOOK: While Crosby's actual role inside the negotiating room is unknown, there was really no one of quite the same stature speaking out during the 2004 lockout. That the league's golden goose is even in there to begin with is noteworthy in itself.
SEASONLESS HIGHLIGHTS: Canceled its eighth annual "Hockeyville" promotion, in which small Canadian towns compete to host an NHL preseason game … One of several NHL sponsors that have aired out frustrations surrounding the lockout … Used $1 million of the money earmarked for Hockeyville to fund an initiative called "Hockey Goes On," which gives money to minor league programs.
CAREER ACTIVITY: Won the 2010 Globe Award, presented by the Marketing Agencies Association, for "best sponsorship or tie-in campaign" … Hockeyville was called "the epitome of a Canadian marketing success story" [PDF] … Gary Bettman even name-checked the promotion during a "State of the NHL" news conference that year.
COMPARABLES: Molson Coors, another major NHL sponsor that has publicly called out the NHL and has said it will seek compensation: "There will be some redress for us as a result of this," Molson's CEO said.
OUTLOOK: Amid all the information being hashed and rehashed and analyzed, one recent data point stood out: Sports Business Daily reported that sponsors have clauses in their contracts "granting relief in the event of a work stoppage, reportedly after at least one quarter of the 82-game regular season is not played." This — along with the now-this-is-getting-really-bad reports that NHL COO (and impresario) John Collins is considering leaving his post in frustration — has fueled speculation that the league will try to devise a solution to play at least 62 games this season, someway, somehow.
SEASONLESS HIGHLIGHTS: Has been one of more than 100 NHL players who have spent the lockout playing overseas … Has accumulated 14 goals and 18 assists in 17 games in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League … As the player with the NHL's highest base salary this season, has lost the most to the lockout thus far … told Russia Today that "I can play in the KHL for the whole year and I'll do it with great pleasure."
CAREER ACTIVITY: Has 406 goals and 379 assists in 779 NHL games … His Devils lost in six games in last year's Stanley Cup finals … Is best known for the massive contract he signed in 2010 that caused a firestorm of criticism and was ultimately voided by the league, which penalized the Devils with two draft picks … On his restructured (though still pretty crazy) contract, he told Yahoo's Dmitry Chesnokov that "the owner himself is offering such deals. A player doesn't put a gun to the owner's head."
COMPARABLES: Worst-case scenario? Wade Redden.
OUTLOOK: One of the league's stated goals in collective bargaining is to stop contracts like Kovalchuk's. (Current proposals include a five-year cap on contract length and a provision that limits salary volatility year to year.) And while he'll likely get paid the bulk of what he is owed, his contract may become more of a burden than it already is, depending on what is decided about how to treat teams that hold so-called "back-diving" contracts.
SEASONLESS HIGHLIGHTS: Has reportedly been one of the more moderate owners throughout the lockout process, perplexing New York–area fans who are accustomed to hating his guts … Despite making his interest known, was not selected to be a part of Tuesday's special subcommittee meeting between 18 players and six owners, causing some to wonder whether he's grown isolated from his peers … Rocked a killer hat on Wednesday as he left the NHL's Board of Governors meeting.
CAREER ACTIVITY: Owns the Rangers, a team that, with its massive salaries in the pre-cap era, helped contribute to the 2004 lockout, but has also long been one of the NHL's biggest revenue drivers … Tried valiantly to lead a revolt against Bettman in 2008, only to be summarily smacked down by the powerful commish … A far less meddlesome owner with hockey than he is with basketball, although he did jinx the Rangers last season … Headlines J D & The Straight Shot, an "undistinguished roots-rock band" that performs, among other things, self-deprecating ditties about the Knicks' futility.
COMPARABLES: Knicks fans are all: "Say Prince Joffrey, say Prince Joffrey." But musically, it'd probably be Steven Seagal.
OUTLOOK: Dolan is one who has much to gain from a resolution. The Rangers are one of the league's top revenue drivers, and the team is constructed in such a way that losing this season would be particularly costly from a personnel standpoint. But there's a sense that after his failed 2008 uprising, he's persona non grata in the owners' room.
SEASONLESS HIGHLIGHTS: In just one day was both appointed to and removed from the federal mediation committee hired to help the NHL, a new record … Showed great raw potential in the speed of his "I was hacked" claims … His #assmode hashtag became a viral sensation, although most who riffed on it were unaware it was some Craig Ferguson reference and not, say, a sexual status update. (We think.)
CAREER ACTIVITY: Had a weird thing for Sarah Silverman … Once you start saying his name to the tune of "My Sharona," it's impossible to stop.
COMPARABLES: Sadly/thankfully, no one — although Bill Clinton hasn't gotten involved in this yet.
OUTLOOK: We can only hope that one day Philip Roth will decide to un-retire so he can write an alternative history about a world in which Serota remains on the mediation committee. Call it The Plot Against Canada.
SEASONLESS HIGHLIGHTS: Made the NHL's biggest free agency splash when he inked Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts on the Fourth of July … Has been suspected of only doing those deals with a salary rollback in mind … Is a hard-line owner who constantly repeats that the team is losing money … Reportedly got into a shouting match with players Chris Campoli and Ron Hainsey during a meeting in October. ("Order was eventually restored when everyone told Craig Leipold that he was talking to himself again," wrote Down Goes Brown.)
CAREER ACTIVITY: A telemarketing magnate, previously owned the Nashville Predators … Nearly sold the team to Jim Balsillie, the former RIM co-CEO, who planned to relocate it to Canada … Bought the Minnesota Wild in 2008 … Made comments in April that player salaries were the Wild's "biggest expense by far," then signed two guys for nearly $200 million.
COMPARABLES: Albert H. Wiggin.
OUTLOOK: Like many other NHL owners, Leipold owns not only the Wild but also the arena they play in. And it's unclear, when he talks about the team losing money, just how he's slicing and dicing his revenues between his various businesses. Regardless, it will be interesting to watch the ongoing dynamic between Leipold and his two new players. Parise complained non-specifically that "you have all these owners signing big deals minutes before the CBA expires and then going the next day, 'We don't want to pay these contracts,'" while Suter called out Leipold specifically. (He later apologized.)
SEASONLESS HIGHLIGHTS: The true unsung heros/victims of this lockout … Have spent months now cobbling together content for a website whose product does not currently exist … Got the last laugh on Wednesday when, amid growing optimism that the two sides might be close to a deal, they put up a giant banner that said WELCOME BACK — With "Watch some of the most legendary returns in NHL history" in much smaller font … Inspired the excellent hashtag #NHLdotcomheadlines ("WE HAVE A DEAL! Peter Pocklington and Bruce McNall revisit the 1988 Gretzky trade").
CAREER ACTIVITY: Unanimous first-ballot Hall of Famers. (Scroll down to the last question.)
COMPARABLES: Disgruntled fans, frustrated arena workers, furloughed team employees.
OUTLOOK: When the lockout finally ends, watch out: These guys have no doubt been stockpiling puns for months now, and are to be respected and feared.
SEASONLESS HIGHLIGHTS: Swooped in as part of the anticipated and feared "players-owners only" meeting this week and scored big-time points … Was widely hailed as a moderate voice more intent on finding solutions than cementing differences … Kept things chill, rockin' sneaks … Is everyone's new favorite.
CAREER ACTIVITY: Built his fortune on groceries, spent it on girls … "A college dropout who hangs with the likes of rapper Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and actor Leonardo DiCaprio" … Noted friend of Bubba and cherished target of Gawker … Was once caught in the web of lies and deceit spun by that Italian dude Anne Hathaway used to date … Became a part owner of the Penguins at a time when the then-bankrupt franchise was thisclose to leaving Pittsburgh and has been part of the turnaround … Has sniffed around purchasing the Pittsburgh Pirates.
COMPARABLES: John McAfee (if McAfee would only lay off the bath salts.)
OUTLOOK: Pittsburgh's position in the lockout has been fascinating. Once a struggling "small-market team" in many ways, it's now among the league's biggest dogs. Lemieux is a former player who knows all too well how they can get screwed; he initially bought the team because they owed him so much money. Burkle is the kind of guy who probably views owning a team as something more akin to a hobby or an investment in art. Though it sure doesn't hurt that the Penguins make money.
SEASONLESS HIGHLIGHTS: Railed against the NHL lockout in a Czech-language interview translated by TV NOVA's Roman Jedlicka … Described himself as "disgusted," called for a simple vote among all the players, and said they "have to push Fehr to the wall to get the deal" … Was backed up by players like Michal Neuvirth … Was slammed by guys including Erik Cole, who called the attitude "selfish" … Refused to back down … Made a decent point.
CAREER ACTIVITY: Has logged more than 1,000 NHL games in Tampa Bay, Edmonton, Long Island, Calgary, Montreal, and Washington … At 38 years old, was set to enter the second year of a two-year contract that may well be his last … According to Cole, was already well known for his extremist views on the lockout.
COMPARABLES: Anyone who thinks what Hamrlik said was that bad clearly doesn't remember last lockout's lunatic, Chris Chelios.
OUTLOOK: It would be a bad thing if every player were on the exact same page, and it would be even worse if the players' association went too far in trying to make it that way. Which is why it was heartening to see Don Fehr's public reaction to Hamrlik's comments: "Democracy can be a bit of a messy process sometimes," he said. The longer this goes on, the more guys are going to begin to reevaluate comments like Hamrlik's. Of course, we've seen dissention in the owners' ranks, too — they're just marginally better about keeping it quiet.
SEASONLESS HIGHLIGHTS: The undisputed breakout star of the NHL lockout … Was constructed in a New York City hotel on Wednesday night while hundreds of crazed and unshaven reporters looked on … Briefly became a trending topic … Gamely posed for thousands of Twitpics … Smart enough not to overstay its welcome.
CAREER HISTORY: Has been involved in most of the NHL's biggest moments, yet remained overlooked until last night … Travels like it's the goddamn Stanley Cup … Has sparked hours of debate over whether it should actually be referred to as the NHL Lectern. (Technically yes, but don't tell it I said that.)
COMPARABLES: Sudden stardom thanks to a starving media? The Podium is Lana Del Rey.
OUTLOOK: When the NHL lockout finally ends, there's a good chance the NHL Podium will be right there to celebrate. But it hasn't let fame get to its head: Last night, the Podium even turned down multiple interview requests. "Media asking for interviews," @NHLPodium tweeted. "I explained I'm an inanimate object incapable of sentient thought. They say no problem, we're used to Crosby." The NHL Podium will be here all night.
This article has been updated to correct Sidney Crosby's status on the Canadian Olympic men's hockey team and details about Roman Hamrlik's contract.