Tired ring to NHL talks

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

Today was to be the day we were to be celebrating the opening of the Senators' season, the hated Toronto Maple Leafs in town, all of us engaging in an October tradition around here (rehashing the Senators' playoff demise last spring at the hands of the Leafs), and, this time, wondering if with Dominik "The Dominator" Hasek in net this might finally be the Senators' year?

Instead, we get Bill "The Negotiator" Daly.

Now, nothing against the NHL's chief legal eagle, who is in town to spread the NHL's message today, but I'd rather watch the on-ice stickhandling, at least what there was when somebody wasn't being hooked or held.

Just guessing, but Daly is probably here again to tell us how this lockout is necessary to save the NHL from itself, how "cost certainty" is critical for the survival of the league, how the players' association isn't a very co-operative bargaining partner.

That might be all true, but, judging from the lack of e-mail on the subject and conversations around town, it has all become just so much white noise for a lot of hockey fans.

Fans who care and have been paying attention have already resigned themselves to a winter without NHL hockey.

There are simply no indications either side is interested in pursuing a deal in the near future. It appears to be their respective strategies, though with differing time frames.

NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow is a man known for his brinkmanship, waiting until the last possible minute to extract the best possible deal. The last-minute in this case is sometime in late December or early January, when a regular season can still be salvaged and the lucrative (for the owners) playoffs still completed, like in 1994-95.

The problem with that approach from the union viewpoint is, what if the last-minute never comes?

What if the owners, who have always caved in these situations, have finally found a new well of resolve and have committed themselves to breaking the union?

If the players won't knuckle under and accept a salary cap, what if the owners have resolved to wipe out this season, declare an impasse and restart next fall (or sooner) with replacement players?

REPLACEMENT PLAYERS

Now there could be some issues in some jurisdictions about the use of scabs, but it's looking more and more like the NHL could operate in some form with replacement players.

Would fans support NHL hockey with replacement players, even a little bit?

That remains to be seen.

There's no question the NHL has been winning the public relations battle. Daly's presence here this morning on radio and TV shows in town is yet another salvo in the public relations battle.

What's the significance of winning the fans' support?

If the NHL has the support of the fans, the idea of replacement players has at least a little chance of not being a total disaster.

If you ignore the fact a lot of fans seem to think both sides are a bunch of spoiled, millionaire idiots, among those who are picking sides, the majority is in the owners' corner.

In a poll on slam.ca, 47% of 5,404 people who voted said they supported the owners.

Only 12% supported the players.

Significantly, 30% said they didn't support either of them.

The owners could be banking on hockey fans investing their passion and loyalties in a team rather than a player and putting additional pressure on NHL players to cross and play.

Are you a Daniel Alfredsson fan or an Ottawa Senators fan? It's an interesting question and the answer could play a role in determining what kind of NHL emerges from this dispute.

Remember what commissioner Gary Bettman said on the day the NHL imposed the lockout:

"I think it's pretty fair to say that we're at an impasse right now and my guess is that we've probably been at an impasse for months, if not a year," he said in addressing an "impasse," the point at which the sides are deadlocked in negotiations after a certain period of time and employers have the power to impose working conditions.

"At some point when we're at impasse, we could simply say, 'We're going to open and here are the terms and conditions. Let's go.' It's that simple."

Really?


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