The first rule of thumb for NHL lockout news should probably be "Ignore it until it’s over."
But for a silly person like myself, who still follows CBA news almost every day of her own free will, here are a few other maxims that have helped.
1. Resist snap judgments; wait for details
"Scoops" in CBA talks aren’t as easy to break on Twitter as trades at the deadline. Inside sources are great, but bear in mind that both sides are waging a public relations war. Without details, there’s no reason to take a source's opinion at face value. This is especially true when the most splashy claims are involved, like "This is a huge concession!" or "They're putting the whole season at risk!"
When the next big rumor arrives, suspend belief and wait for information to emerge. It'll keep you from getting lured into extremes of hope or despair. If there really is a new proposal, both sides will be sure to weigh in on it.
2. Look at the numbers
In keeping with my "This isn’t the trade deadline" theme, many hockey reporters have freely admitted that number-crunching isn’t their forte. But in the middle of PR campaigns on both sides, it’s important to sift through the complex economic issues and figure out what’s behind every CBA proposal. How far apart are the two sides, really? What are the biggest issues? Forget the rhetoric. Look at the money.
James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail has done a full breakdown of which teams are struggling despite the league's record growth, how close the two sides really are dollar-wise at the moment, and why revenue sharing matters to the PA. Articles like these are a great way to get a handle on the core issues at stake. When all the world's a stage, facts can get lost in the posturing.
3. Remember that they’re still talking
Over the last few weeks, the Winter Classic was cancelled early, the NHL cried that its proposals were misrepresented by dastardly union leadership, and the NHLPA's chief declared that he didn’t see a "way forward." They've dished out more drama than a Soap Network marathon. But here's your flicker of optimism: they’re still negotiating.
You may scoff at this, but consider the deep freeze of September and October, when the league rejected the PA’s offers and said there was "no reason to meet" unless the players were going to make new concessions. Now they are suddenly meeting without conditions, and holding talks for consecutive days. There are breathless reports of discussions lasting deep into the night. No matter what accusations are hurled the night before, Fehr and Daly get together over light lunches. Kevin Westgarth tags along to prove there's nothing Steve can hide.
Players are about to lose more checks, and the most lucrative months for the owners—from January on—are closer to the chopping block. Months into this stupid lockout, they're finally acting like it's crunch time.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the drama won’t continue for a while. When it gets to be too much, crack open a beer and go back to Rule Zero (total ignore). It’s really not a bad idea to take a break and leave the whole mess behind.
Who knows? Maybe the NHL will get its act together and win us back. Maybe it won’t.
The last act is always the strangest.