Everybody loses

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:16 AM ET

The sad but ridiculous game of hockey roulette continues with no apparent victors and a National Hockey League season still on the brink.

In other words, a lot of same old, same old. Only the day and the apparent circumstances have changed.

Yesterday, a board of governors meeting scheduled for next Friday was cancelled because, essentially, the league had nothing to tell its owners. There was no reason for 30 men of wealth to schlep to New York in the middle of winter to hear only more rhetoric.

Because, in truth, nothing has changed.

Because, in truth, neither side is budging.

This slow labour dance continues on with each side holding a metaphoric gun, fingers poised to pull the trigger on themselves and the season: This has never been about hockey. This has been only about winning.

And right now all anyone is doing is losing. The game. The players. The owners. The fans. Everyone.

The owners I spoke with yesterday will tell you that the next move in this chess game is up to Bob Goodenow and the NHL Players' Association. They will tell you that knowing they cannot publicly speak without fear of being fined by the league.

The players I spoke with yesterday will tell you that they have made a more than reasonable offer and have no place next to go.

Each side looks to the other for some kind of wisdom and finds none.

Lost, besides a season in a $2.1-billion US industry, is the very thought that both sides need to partner up here and find a way to divide a reasonable amount of revenue in a reasonable enough manner to keep the industry healthy.

But owners are trying to stomp the players and the players are trying to play the owners off against each other, knowing anything resembling cost certainty will shrink their world. The pieces on the chess board get moved around, but nothing ever changes.

And the season has yet to be cancelled, even though some speculated that the Jan. 14 meeting was called for that exact reason.

More than one labour lawyer will tell you that the National Hockey League has resisted anything regarding a drop-dead date of cancellation because legally it's in their best interest to do so.

They won't cancel the season. They'll just keep delaying it and delaying it until the first pitch of spring is thrown.

At the same time, many owners believe that it has long been Goodenow's tactic to negotiate off what he calls the 11th hour.

Only this time, without knowing when or where that 11th hour is.

"We still have a few weeks," one owner said yesterday.

Still, each sides remains obstinate on its island.

What worries another owner is that "I find what Goodenow is doing frightening. He's waiting for the 11th hour. What happens if he gets to 12:01 and it's over?"

And the clock is ticking. Like a bomb. Bill Daly, the NHL's executive vice-president and chief legal officer, said yesterday that the owners have no new offer in the works and look to the players to make the next move. The players say the opposite.

The children fight and nobody plays.

And this ludicrous game outside the game continues on to the satisfaction of no one.


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