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September 19, 2012 | 12:37pm ET


What's Going On?
The impasse caused by the Collective Bargaining Agreement impacts every facet of the game.

LOS ANGELES -- For the past month, I've felt like Marvin Gaye. Not because I can belt out a great karaoke version of "Sexual Healing," but due to the fact it's the first question I'm asked by fans, players and team employees.

As the witching hour has past, the game stands at a point that no one thought it would be when we started the chase for Lord Stanley's Cup last October.

I could express my detailed thoughts, but you've read them in many places from sources closer to the action.

My singular thought is this: everyone is wrong; they've all donned black hats.

If you're a fan, you shouldn't have empathy towards either side and you have every right to voice your frustration and anger at any party you choose. It's not "their" game. It's "THE" game that predates $10 million signing bonuses and $500 seats at the glass.

As we sped long toward the black hole that is the lockout, I found the best way to spend the final hours prior to the Saturday shutdown courtesy of a long standing relationship we have with a member of the Los Angeles Kings. He's not a player, nor an executive, but a hard working employee, who thankfully to the stability of his employer, Anschutz Entertainment Group, will not have his job affected by the maddening lack of puck.

You've seen the grand celebrations of the Kings' victory tour with the iconic trophy; it's been on mountains, near waterfalls and yes, even had children drink chocolate milk out of it thanks to Dustin Brown. Stanley is still on the road (the Keepers of the Cup travel 150,000 miles a year) before it takes a break to have this year's winners names engraved as a final affirmation of a hard earned Kings victory.

The reason this sports trophy above all others has reached iconic status is due in part to the nature of how it's celebrated after victory.

Jeremy Zager, the hard working Manager of Communications and Broadcasting for the team, took his turn with the Cup this past weekend. He's the stats guru, the go-to guy when the Kings were suffering the scoring blues this past winter. It seemed almost nightly we'd hit him up for details on the futility we were witnessing on the ice. He'd always be quick with a response and depending on the night, injected some levity into the situation.

He was only of the rare few who got the lift the Cup above his head after the Kings made their magical run. The championship was probably more poignant for Jeremy than most members of the organization because during the Final he lost his grandfather. He let few know of the loss at the time and continued to conduct business albeit with a very heavy heart. So when the Cup arrived for its afternoon of fun, surely his grandpa was smiling down on it all.

Most who toil for the Kings reside not far from its practice facility and offices, those outside Los Angeles probably have heard the reference "South Bay" that designates the stretch of nice towns and easy living it represents. Though Jeremy and wife Jennifer reside in the vicinity, it was no surprise to learn he chose to celebrate 50 miles north of home, where he started his journey to adulthood, the Zager family home.

His folks reside in Santa Clarita, most noted for its proximity to Magic Mountain, a place I've fortunately stayed away from for the 15 years I've lived in Southern California. There wasn't a more appropriate setting for the Cup to be celebrated for this family, the home in which Jeremy grew up and the cul-de-sac where he dreamed of scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal. He realized his dream of bringing the Cup home and he's fine that it's through his efforts of helping cats like me instead of receiving some backhand sauce from Anze Kopitar.

It was a blazing hot afternoon for the celebration, but the heat seemed to drift away as we rolled up and saw the Cup on the home's front lawn. In a scene acted out thousands of times over the past century, babies were put in the bowl, there were plenty of kisses to be had and yes, even media types put their Blackberry down long enough to cop a pose with it.

Jeremy's dad, Ken, wasn't a hockey fan; his son to introduced him to the game in the ancient days at the Forum, not surprising as most native Southern Californians his age didn't grow up with the sport. Ken was beaming and part of him was in disbelief as his son raised the trophy in the late afternoon sun.

"This is really quite amazing, it's historic and for most here, it will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the Cup," said the senior Zager. "For me, it goes a step further, the ability to have friends, family and strangers at our home to celebrate a unique and joyous occasion."

His son admits the day was more about his loved ones than himself.

"The night we won the Cup, I got to lift it, and I've had that experience," Jeremy said. "Today is definitely about family. I haven't even thought about the lockout."

He probably was the only one.

The sense I felt as I walked away from the event was that this moment was robbed of its full bliss by the inability of millionaires and billionaires to figure out how to split $3 billion between them.

The uncertainty of when the Cup will be contested and defended by his team in full vigor served to mute the joy of the Zagers. NHL fans could endure a dozen lockouts, but the legacy of the Stanley Cup will survive.

As for "What's Going On," we feel the owners will hold the line until December at which point they will come to terms. They'll save the Winter Classic, All-Star Game (would be pushed back a la NBA) and the Stanley Cup playoffs (by the way, the players don't get paid for them) for a cost savings of a cool $ 800 million.

For those seeking solace, I have a recommendation. If you've never visited the Hockey Hall of Fame, now would be a great time to visit. It provides a pure connection to the history of the game and a perfect tonic for the fan after being bombarded by rhetoric and the lack of serious collective bargaining over the past two months.

Maybe both sides of the CBA negotiations should walk the halls as well to realize what great harm their current stewardship of the game can ruin.

Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period Magazine. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.


 

 

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