Will Gary ever learn?

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

It has begun. The end? It's nowhere in sight. Don't be surprised if it lasts more than 18 months. Unless the National Hockey League owners start to show a willingness to compromise -- as the players already have -- it will last 18 months. Or more.

With the owners locking out the players as of the CBA's expiration at 12:01 this morning, they start in motion a chain of events that can only harm the game.

Still, after decades of poor leadership, first from John Ziegler, then from Gary Bettman, this latest poor decision is simply the most recent in a string of debacles foisted upon the fans by the league.

Over the next few months, there will be all kinds of opinions offered -- the vast majority coming from people who don't have a clue what's going on between the two factions -- and both sides will be subjected to a great deal of criticism.

There will be those who call the players "greedy" and "stupid" without taking into account that the players' association has made an offer that is a reasonable starting point for negotiations.

But it was rejected out of hand by the league, which has been organizing this lockout for at least five years, has put aside a $300-million US war chest, and apparently doesn't want to waste all the hard work that went into planning the shutdown.

NOTHING LIKE NHL

Those critical of the players will say that salary caps work in other leagues, without realizing that those caps are nothing like the system the NHL is trying to impose.

They will say that the league doesn't have television revenue, as if the players somehow have any responsibility for that development.

But unfortunately, both sides are resolute.

The players know they cannot accept a hard salary cap. No union in sports ever has. You might notice that the owners of the many profitable NHL franchises aren't proposing a profit cap.

The owners have been convinced by Bettman that this is their only opportunity to get out of the hole they have dug for themselves. It isn't. This approach does nothing but make the hole deeper.

And if the lockout is allowed to drag on, the very status of North America as the home of the world's best professional hockey league will be jeopardized.

The owners should heed the words of Joe Sakic, a quiet-spoken, thoughtful man who has long been one of the league's best ambassadors, on and off the ice.

Sakic is not known for forceful statements but, in this case, he made an exception.

"It's definitely not going to be good for the game," he said. "It can't be, but hopefully, it will be solved. Common sense will come. Right now, it's not looking good."

Sakic feels he knows where the blame should be placed. "Honestly for me, for me, I just think it's one person," he said. "Gary wants the cap and is willing to cancel the year to try to break the players and have them come back next year. I think he's going to be very surprised.

"I think the owners are making a mistake by believing him. That's just my opinion."

The players are often charged with being greedy, but Sakic thinks the players, by offering salary rollbacks and agreeing to accept luxury taxes, are being reasonable.

"The players, we're trying to find a system that helps the owners and works," he said, "but Gary wants everything.

"I think he's going to be surprised. Well I know he's going to be surprised, and I just hope he has learned from last time."

He hasn't.


Videos

Photos