Top Shelf: A sad day for the NHL

This evening was supposed to be one of celebration for the NHL. Unfortunately, fans of professional hockey have nothing to cheer about at the moment.

The original start date for the 2012-13 regular season was Oct. 11, but of course the NHL's ongoing labor battle has put the campaign on hold for the forseeable future.

Instead of the promise that comes along with the start of every NHL season, those who love this sport are left with nothing but a vague feeling of dread as this complicated dispute continues to rage on with no end in sight.

As we cross the threshold of when the season was slated to begin it's hard to be hopeful. After all, up to this point it seems like next to nothing has been accomplished in the negotiations between representatives for the owners and players.

Sadly, if you're the type of person who looks for silver linings, it's hard to see one in a forecast that has shown nothing but stormy weather.

I suppose an extremely optimistic person could find comfort in the fact that the two sides met for several hours on Wednesday and also are meeting Thursday. It's better than them not meeting I suppose, but since core economic issues are still off the table, there doesn't seem to be a turning point on the horizon.

The negotiations will have to gain serious traction soon to avoid another round of cancellations like the ones announced last week. The league wiped out all of the games scheduled through Oct. 24 and another two-week block could be eliminated as early as next week.

Of course, the canceled games already have cost the league some serious money. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the NHL has lost $240 million due to the loss of the entire preseason schedule and the first two weeks of the regular season.

Still, those financial losses don't seem to be moving the dial at all in terms of getting a new collective bargaining agreement done. Daly himself admitted that nothing substantial was accomplished during Wednesday's talks.

"I don't think we made a lot of progress today, to tell you the truth," Daly said.

A clear sign that things need to get worse before they get better is the recent comments by NHLPA president Donald Fehr regarding the implications of an extended lockout.

"If this goes on for an extended period of time, I don't know what they (the players) are going to do," Fehr told the Toronto Star's editorial board. "But I think it's safe to say, they would be exploring all options."

Many folks read "all options" to mean that even the league's salary cap -- a crowning achievement for the owners during the CBA battle that wiped out the 2004-05 season -- would be on the table.

Now, it's highly likely Fehr was using an intimidation tactic when he said "all options," but what if was being serious?

If it gets to the point in which any NHLPA proposal asks for the removal of the salary cap, then just like in 2004-05 the prospect of the entire season being wiped out will be very real indeed.

So, as you settle into the couch Thursday evening and find the television landscape devoid of hockey, it's a good time to reflect on what we've already lost as NHL fans caught in the middle of this ugly and petty fight.

It's sad a dispute that seems so silly to the average hockey fan is one that has become all-important to the billionaires and millionaires fighting over the oceans of revenue provided by those same loyal supporters.

Remember all the lack of hockey when this dispute is finally settled and the players get back on the ice. When that day comes, think hard before offering support for a league that so often takes it for granted.