It's the last call for the NHL.
If the league and its Players' Association can illustrate some holiday goodwill and save the season, the NHL will bounce back—but if the two sides allow another season to get wiped out, the damage will be permanent.
Progress has been painfully slow over the past few weeks. The NHL and NHLPA have both started the process of filing legal action against each other instead of returning to the bargaining table. Katie Strang of ESPN reports the union has union Jan. 2 to decide whether to file its disclaimer of interest.
Legal jargon aside, the two sides are in serious danger of letting another entire season slip away. It's hard to believe they would let that happen just eight years after the last debacle, but the likely deadline to save at least a partial season is just weeks away.
The NHL already watched one golden opportunity pass by in Christmas. If an agreement would have been reached before the holiday, fans around the league would have added tickets and merchandise to their wish lists, giving the league an immediate boost.
But that didn't happen, which isn't a surprise given how tone deaf both sides have proven to be over the past decade. They weren't able to understand what a pre-Christmas deal would have meant in terms of fan support and they seemingly don't comprehend what another lost season would mean, either.
As of now, a vast majority of the fans that the sport has lost are of the casual variety. Most of the diehards have remained loyal to the league, usually hanging on to every last word during negotiations. If the season is canceled, that would no longer be the case.
At that point, even longtime NHL fans would begin to jump ship. It will reach a point where the enjoyment the league brings is outweighed by the frustration of missed seasons and a complete disregard for the fanbase.
Trying to secure the best deal possible is one thing. Refusing to budge as the season hangs in the balance is something completely different, and should be viewed as unacceptable by the fans.
That hasn't stopped Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr from engaging in a standoff. Neither leader wants to blink first, but without an agreement in the near future, they will both walk away losers—as will the people they represent.
Fans, both young and old, aren't going to continue to support a league that has shown no interest in making sure they are happy customers. Just like any other business, consumers are going to find something that better satisfies their needs.
The NHL still has a chance to avoid that fate—but time is running out.