SAN JOSE -- "We're really bummed out, thinking about it," said Richard Aranda.

He is the proprietor and master of hospitality at Henry's World Famous High Life, the iconic steak and ribs joint that's just down St. John Street from HP Pavilion. The lunch hour crowd Tuesday was drifting back to work. Aranda had a free minute.

"When is the lockout supposed to start?" Aranda asked. "This weekend?"

Saturday, 9 p.m. Pacific time. That's when the current National Hockey League labor agreement expires. Players say they'd be happy to keep negotiations going. But owners have promised to implement a lockout if nothing happens by the weekend. Basically, it's a pre-emptive move to keep the NHL Players' Association from calling a strike during the season if talks collapse.

If there is a lockout, as expected, the first public events to be canceled will be the Sharks' training camp sessions, scheduled to begin next weekend. Then it'll be the exhibition games, set to start Sept. 26. Then the regular season opener on Oct. 12. And so on. With the players and owners at loggerheads on several issues, most people believe we won't see NHL hockey until December.

"Or Thanksgiving," said Aranda. "That's what I'm hearing and hoping for."

Thanksgiving still would not be good. It would mean a dozen or more missed home dates at HP Pavilion for the Sharks. Each of those dates is lost revenue at Henry's and all the other neighboring establishments, not to mention lost shifts for arena ushers and concession/food workers.

"When the games fall on a Tuesday or Thursday," Aranda said, "it's like an extra weekend night for us. We've held off on hiring our usual extra staffing for those nights until we see what happens."

My attitude about sports labor squabbles is consistent. None are worth fretting over. It's just business, no matter how messy and ugly the business gets.

We know this: Eventually a settlement will happen. Lawyers will figure out how to divide up the gobs of money provided by NHL fans and sponsors and television networks every season. Owners and players will emerge from the dispute rich or richer. No need to agonize over them.

But it's always worth reminding the quarreling negotiators, as they haggle over the money split, that other stakeholders are involved. And they're in every franchise city -- especially in cities where the hockey arenas are located in downtown areas surrounded by restaurants and bars.

At Henry's Hi-Life and Patty's Inn and the Poor House Bistro and so many other neighbors of HP Pavilion, the stakeholders are numerous. As Aranda confirmed exclusively to this newspaper, none of his employees make million-dollar paychecks. For them, those 40-plus nights of hockey can determine their Christmas shopping limit or vacation budget.

It would be swell, therefore, if hockey's smart people on both sides of the negotiating table hunkered down to do a deal sooner rather than later. Legitimate issues of commerce must be decided. Players have offered to give up a percentage of the league's overall revenue but in return seek other considerations. Owners hope to implement restrictions on length of contracts and free agent eligibility--apparently to protect certain spendthrift owners from themselves.

My gut feeling is that we'll have hockey before Christmas. The contract differences and gaps can be bridged. They should be. But I am leery. I felt the same way before the last lockout. That was in the autumn of 2004. But once the work stoppage began, it stretched on and on and on. Finally, the entire 2004-05 season was canceled.

Another wary note: This time around, the NHL players' negotiations are being handled by Donald Fehr. Yes, the same guy that once fronted the Major League Baseball Players' Association. Fehr is known as a tough heel-digger at the negotiating table. He represented the baseball players during the 1994 work stoppage that led to the cancellation of that year's World Series.

So could we have a repeat of 2004-05 in hockey and wipe out another entire 82-game schedule? I can't believe that. Too many players and owners from back then are still either in uniform or behind desks. They recall how awful the missed season was. They remember how, when hockey returned, the NHL's most dedicated followers came back to arenas almost immediately -- but it took years to win back casual fans and television viewers.

No sport, even hockey, can be idiotic enough to liquidate two seasons in nine years. And some things on hockey's landscape have changed since 2004. There's now an entire NHL cable network. The popularity of high-definition TV has enhanced hockey broadcasts and helped boost ratings. In 2010, the USA-Canada Olympic gold medal final drew larger North American ratings than World Cup soccer games involving the USA.

And there is this: Recently, one of the league's biggest moneymakers and image-enhancers has been the annual "Winter Classic" outdoor game on New Year's Day. This season, the site is University of Michigan Stadium, where 113,000 customers are expected to fill every seat. The NHL does not want to lose that event. It would be a shock if a settlement doesn't take place before December.

Aranda is counting on that, too, for a lot of reasons.

"Sure, the financial end of it is a big part for us," Aranda said, "but there's also the thing about the Sharks being our team in San Jose and the Bay Area. It's really fun in here on game nights. There are some people, we only see them during hockey season. They come from Modesto or Sacramento and wine country and all over. I'll miss them if they're not around."

If those game nights instead become dead nights at Henry's this winter, the players and owners might shrug and say: "So what?"

Not their problem. Right? Hardly. The danger, if there's another extended lockout, is that those folks not at Henry's will also become people who used to go to hockey games.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5092.