Officially, the 2012 NHL lockout began almost three weeks ago.
But, in many ways, the work stoppage's real impact is only beginning now.
No longer are the players and owners toiling through summer's dog days in their stubborn misery. No longer are Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr and a buffalo herd of others making empty threats about "when that time comes."
No longer is the lockout a childish game of silly proposals and unreasonable arguments.
The 2012-13 season is now truly on the line, and its first two weeks have already been added to the casualty list; there will be no hockey until Oct. 24, at the earliest. One of the most improbable lockouts in sports history is officially a reality.
More than a reality, in truth.
Now, the focus shifts back to the negotiation table. Will the cancellation of games, which has long seemed inevitable but nonetheless distant, give Bettman, Fehr & Co. the action-inducing kick in the rear many fans have been hoping for?
Donald Fehr, leader of the NHL Players' Association, issued an intriguingly sympathetic statement Thursday afternoon. Per Fehr:
"If the owners truly cared about the game and the fans, they would lift the lockout and allow the season to begin on time while negotiations continue. A lockout should be the last resort in bargaining, not the strategy of first resort.
Nevertheless, the players remain committed to playing hockey while the parties work to reach a deal that is fair for both sides. We hope we will soon have a willing negotiating partner."
Fehr's press release reeks of negotiational bashing, but only continues to increase fan support for the players' side. After all, he's not stretching the truth much—the NHLPA has indicated they would be willing to play one more season while the CBA is being negotiated.
Now, however, that sincere confession of hockey dedication may have lost its fruitfulness entirely. A portion of the season is lost for good; the 2012 NHL lockout is destined for the history books as the NHL's third in 18 years.
Moreover, issues like luxury tax, revenue sharing and the always-contested salary cap may be tearing the owners themselves apart more than the two opposing sides. It's bad enough when the players and owners haven't made significant progress in over a month—but the owners also have disputes between their own members to deal with.
The real cancellation of the season's first two weeks, nevertheless, has the potential to drastically change the attitude and outlook of the current debacle.
Will the groundbreaking announcement return long-lost teamwork and optimism to the debate, or will it only shred the two sides' progressiveness and amiability even further?
We'll have to wait until next week to see.