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ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

Commissioner Gary Bettman came to Edmonton yesterday and the only light he could shed on a work stoppage that will almost certainly wipe out at least one NHL season went something along the lines of: Those greedy union bastards won't even try negotiating.

Union chief Bob Goodenow, in virtually all of his public appearances since the lockout began, usually counters with something close to: We don't trust those liars, thieves and cheats for one minute.

And that, hockey starved friends, has been the extent of negotiations between the only people who can stop Armageddon 2004 -- juvenile name calling and pointless posturing.

Union chief and commissioner are positions of enormous trust and responsibility, ones that are supposed to be held by intelligent, thoughtful, fair and understanding men who truly care about the game and the people who watch it.

And what do we get?

Gary Bettman is a poop-head.

Bob Goodenow has cooties.

You could have replaced both of them with the brattiest two kids in any Grade 3 class and be no further along than today.

"It's frustrating, but I don't see an end in sight," said Ethan Moreau, one of a handful of Oilers staying in shape for games that will probably never be played. "They need to have some meaningful talks in the next couple of weeks."

More meaningful than poop-head and cooties? That would be a refreshing change. But not likely. Instead of talking to each other, all Bettman and Goodenow are doing is talking to us about how inflexible the other guy is.

NO RUSHING IT

Nobody wants to rush into another bad deal (at least the owners don't, anyway) but nobody wants to spend 18 months waiting for the two sides to begin negotiating, either.

"It's like a chemical reaction or cooking under a recipe," explained Bettman. "You can't make things happen faster than they're going to happen. You need a willing negotiating partner, somebody who is prepared to acknowledge the problem. We're dealing with a union that has still has yet acknowledge the problems that everybody in this room knows we have."

These problems, of course, are entirely the fault of Bettman and the owners. They're the ones who expanded to markets that wouldn't sustain hockey, they're the ones who watered down the talent pool, diluted the game and signed the cheques that sent salaries skyrocketing out of control.

If you ever have to say the words "Wade Belak"and "millionaire" in the same sentence, the system is broken.

Fixing it requires more than well-scripted rhetoric and talking points.

GREEDY MERCENARIES

We all know that players and agents are greedy mercenaries who've lost touch with reality in the current economic system. And we all know that big business and corporate giants will step on you in a heartbeat if it means bigger profits at the shareholder meetings.

Pounding those points home on SportsNet and TSN every night, with your hand up the back of your side's puppet "analyst," isn't helping.

Neither does a road trip to Edmonton to preach solidarity. We need constructive dialogue between the only two people who can fix this.

Maybe a salary cap ISN'T the only answer, Gary. Get in there and see if a union-backed alternative might work. Maybe some form of cost certainty IS workable for the players, Bob, if it can be tied to further concessions.

Get in there and start talking -- you might end up with something crazy like a compromise that works for all sides.

"Until the union decides its time to really start negotiating in a meaningful way," said Bettman. "It's really difficult to move this process forward."

So here we are, 77 days into the battle, inching desperately close to the point of no return for the 2004 season, with very little hope on the horizon.

But there has been some progress. We know now, thanks to all the work Bettman and Goodenow have done so far, that players are stubborn jerks and owners are lying goofs.

And fans, who for far too long have been paying the kind of money they shouldn't have to pay for the kind of hockey they shouldn't have to watch, they deserve better than the leadership Poop-head and Cootie Boy are providing.


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