That creaking and groaning you hear isn’t just the sound of chairs being pushed away from holiday tables; it's the weight of the hockey world bearing down on the NHL and its owners.
Every day that passes without formal talks -- two weeks and counting since the two sides could put aside their enmity and appear in the same building, let alone the same room -- is a straw that continues to collect on the bowed back of the pathetic camel that is the NHL.
Every syllable uttered by important figures like New Jersey Devils president and GM Lou Lamoriello adds more weight to a league that has been flayed and filleted from the moment this utterly asinine lockout of its players began on Sept. 15.
Lamoriello, a key figure in the resolution to the last lockout (No. 2 in commissioner Gary Bettman’s Terrible Trio of lockouts), told The Star-Ledger he was “embarrassed” that the lockout had gone on this long.
Sure, Lamoriello’s relationship with Bettman and the league may have soured over the penalties levied against his squad as a result of the Ilya Kovalchuk contract, but he remains an imposing figure in league matters.
Now, Lamoriello didn’t say he was embarrassed at how the league has conducted itself. He is far too intelligent a man to put himself in Bettman’s sights with any kind of public criticism. But his candid comments about being embarrassed speak volumes and should ring loud and clear throughout an ownership group that will have no one to blame but itself if this season slips into the abyss in the next couple of weeks.
Veteran netminder Martin Brodeur, Lamoriello's longtime anchor in New Jersey for two decades, told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun on Wednesday evening that his veteran GM certainly has earned the right to express himself given his years in the game and the respect people have for him around the league.
And Brodeur himself grows more concerned by the day with the impact of this lockout on the game.
"It's scarier than the other lockouts," Brodeur said, adding that people seemingly don't care about what's happening right now, which should concern everyone involved.
Brodeur, who added that he was 100 percent behind what the NHLPA has tried to do in these talks, also said he was frustrated and "very disappointed" the two sides haven't held talks in a few weeks.
As we await what will apparently be the endgame of this labor dispute, all owners should feel a sting of shame.
As the last days of this lamentable fall and early winter of 2012 tick away, the league remains quiet, waiting presumably for what will be a last-ditch effort to save at least a portion of the 2012-13 season. The feeling is that the league has one more give in it; maybe it’s limits on contract length, length of a new CBA, some transitional benefits to the players in the form of amnesty buyouts or some similar method of easing the pain of a revised share of hockey revenues and a lowering of the salary cap. The theory is that the NHL is waiting until the last minute to try to strike a deal because NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr has exploited previous moves by the owners to reach a settlement by continuing to push for more.
It is a dangerous game of brinksmanship to say the least.
The league continues to be hammered in various media -- those that still care enough to turn its attention to a game that can’t help but repeat its own labor follies -- while the question of how much damage has been done to the once-thriving game looms large with the season hanging in the balance.
It is imperative that the league and its players come to some sort of resolution to see hockey return this season.
Lose another whole season with legal battles looming and who knows what kind of lunar landscape awaits, which is why many believe the two sides will find a resolution in the final frame of this sordid drama.
But while we wait for that elusive moment, the weight continues to build on the back of a league and a game whose shame apparently knows no bounds.
ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun contributed to this report.