SUN Hockey Pool

Blue Christmas for fans

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:53 PM ET

It is all but certain now: For the first time in the history of professional sport, a league will cancel its entire season schedule. There have been player strikes before, there have been owner-induced lockouts. There even was a World Series cancelled.

But never has there been what now seems apparent with the National Hockey League. A winter without games. No playoff pool come April. No late-night overtimes. A Canada without Hockey Night In Canada.

"It's safe to assume there will not be a hockey season," said Ted Saskin, senior advisor to the NHL Players' Association, when asked if there was any reason for optimism.

How can there be optimism when Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow talk, just not the same language?

DIFFICULTY AGREEING

They would have difficulty agreeing on which direction to drive on a one-way street. They would argue the points of the arrow, the width of the road, all the percentages, and then hand out mounds of documents and charts and figures to make their point.

So many of them meaningless because this is a one-issue negotiation, if it is a negotiation at all.

It always has been a one-issue negotiation.

Everything else is window dressing. Everything else basically is immaterial.

Forget about rollbacks and public relations and rhetoric and arbitration and entry-level salaries and percentages and everything else that has been spun in so many directions.

This is about a salary cap and nothing else. Bettman won't make a deal without one. Goodenow won't make a deal with one.

"Gary remains fixated on a salary cap solution," Goodenow said. "As long as that's the case, it's going to be a problem.

"Do they want an idiot-proof system? I think everyone understands what they're looking for."

Almost everything else is verbosity and posturing and PR and oh, so annoying. As if anybody wins or thinks they will be popular with the league not playing games -- an entertainment business not entertaining anyone.

In fairness, the players offered a substantial rollback in salary that was sneered at in a document leaked to TSN on Monday that embarrassed Bettman and the NHL when it became public. Bettman came back paddling hard yesterday, contradicting his own memorandum, applauding the players' apparent willingness to negotiate.

In the process, though, he went even further. He made a rather transparent attempt to divide the players by offering the league's own interpretation of salary rollbacks. In the end, nothing will come of any of it.

SAME QUESTION

It can't because it always comes back to the same question: Cap or no cap?

No room to negotiate. Ideology defeating logic. Two stubborn men with nothing at risk to either of them and followers on each side gladly in line.

Actually, there was a deal to be made off the players' offer of a week ago. But instead, there was a rejection, a counter-proposal from the owners' side, and a players' rejection.

The only game being played is verbal ping pong.

"We simply cannot go back to the future," Bettman said.

"Their numbers are wildly unreliable," Goodenow said.

And so it goes. Back and forth. A lot of talk for public consumption. A whole lot of nothing. A season of games. Just not the kind we like.


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