The lockout is official.
As of 11:59 p.m. ET Saturday, the National Hockey League and the NHL Players Association have formally separated, ending the league's collective bargaining agreement and casting frightening doubt on the supposedly-upcoming 2012-2013 season.
The two sides have fully broken off talks, and neither seem inclined to surrender their trenches. The players have won over many a fan but not many an owner; the owners have done little to improve their social standing but refuse to back off their hard-nosed strategies.
The revenue sharing argument remains Grand Canyon-esque; the salary cap is about as certain as North Korea's nuclear program.
Donald Fehr's fan propaganda has gone over far better than his cooperation techniques; Gary Bettman's approval rating has reached a level that makes George Bush cringe, but he doesn't appear to care.
Frankly, it seems like hell.
But how quickly we have forgotten 2004.
If the current 2012 NHL lockout can be compared to a heated presidential debate, the 2004 quarrel, which eventually led to a cancelled '04-'05 season, was the Constitutional Convention.
In case 10th grade U.S. History isn't fresh in your mind, the 55 delegates of that gathering spent four months determining the fate of their country—while locked inside a non-air conditioned building for 10 hours a day.
Simply put, the differences between today and eight years ago are astounding.
Since the past lockout, the average franchise worth (per Forbes) has grown almost 47 percent—from $163.3 million to $239.9 million—and the values of the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers alone have nearly doubled.
In 2004, the owners originally demanded a $35 million "hard" salary cap but eventually backed off to $39 million. Now, the league is coming off of a 2011-12 season with a $64.3 million cap and players are asking for a $69 million marker next year.
League revenues have risen from $2 billion in '04 to $3.3 billion in '12, and, providing the upcoming season is salvaged at some point, that number will only continue to rise.
Without a doubt, the 2012 negotiations are operating around far bigger stakes than they were nearly a decade ago.
But the two sides are also much closer to an agreement.
The replacement of atrocious 2004 NHLPA leader Bob Goodenow with veteran negotiator Donald Fehr has, and will continue to keep talks more civil—eight years ago, Flyers owner Ed Snider noted he was itching to "strangle" Goodenow during fall '04 conversations.
Fehr and Bettman, while in disagreement, have maintained a cordial relationship throughout the process.
Each side's proposals on revenue sharing have shown positive signs, as well.
After the owners originally proposed cutting the players' portion from 57 percent to 43 percent, the NHL's latest offer has players receiving 49, 48 and 47 percent, respectively, over a three-year plan. Players, meanwhile, have suggested a four-year plan giving them just 54.3, 52.5, 52.0 and 52.0 percent, respectively, of the net revenues.
The NHL can also negotiate without their television status in jeopardy, as the 10-year pact the sport signed with NBC last year would not be cancelled after a lost season.
Eight years ago, the lost campaign dropped hockey from ESPN prime time to the Outdoor Life Network (later renamed Versus before being bought by NBC last year)—a drastically different consequence.
Heated 2004 issues, like the addition of a "hard" salary cap and the implementation of several major rule changes, are no longer issues either.
With the calendar now sitting on Sept. 16th and the NHL officially locked out, pessimism is running high across North America.
There exists little doubt that a CBA agreement will be a difficult, tedious and, worst of all, lengthy process—which, given the current, upward-trending position of the league and the sport of hockey itself, is absolutely inexcusable.
But, make no mistake, this is most certainly not 2004.
Mark Jones has been a Bleacher Report featured columnist since 2009. He has written more than 420 articles and received more than 700,000 reads.
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