Why bother?

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

Let's get this straight.

NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin says the players won't come forward with a new proposal when three union representatives meet with three league representatives tomorrow for the first meeting between the two sides since Dec. 14.

Moreover, Saskin says, the players "remain committed to reaching a fair deal that does not include a salary cap."

So, why bother?

Why get fans' hopes up at this point?

Why waste everybody's time?

On the surface, a meeting sounds like a step in the right direction. After all, seeing as we awoke this morning to Day 124 of the lockout, any dialogue is a move forward in a winter of discontent.

Sadly -- barring a drastic change on one side's part -- it'll only end in another step backward for everyone involved.

Face it, hearts of NHL hockey fans everywhere skipped a beat when word of a meeting spread.

Which will make the disappointment all the worse when the foregone conclusion comes to fruition.

At some point, Saskin, NHLPA president Trevor Linden and outside counsel John McCambridge surely will walk away from a table that had Calgary Flames part-owner Harley Hotchkiss, NHL second-in-command Bill Daly and outside counsel Bob Batterman on the other side and declare: "No deal."

Sadly -- stupidly -- no deal will come from this because both sides have stated from Day 1 where they stand.

And they've never wavered.

The owners have maintained the league, which paid its average player more than $1.8 million US last season, is so sick, it needs full-scale changes -- changes that include a link between league revenue and salaries.

Meanwhile, we have players -- talented worker bees but still worker bees -- saying they can't live with that system. We've heard it so loud and so often it's impossible to imagine either side will change now.

What makes hockey so compelling, so worthwhile, is the never-say-die attitude the players show. You don't get to the NHL without having the ability to fight to the end. You don't succeed at the NHL level without finding even more when you should be done.

Suddenly, accepting the owners' proposal in some way, shape or form will constitute capitulation on those players' part.

Although they likely should, all those skaters will find it tough, maybe even impossible, to swallow their pride that way.

On the other hand, you're talking about owners who are multi-millionaires and billionaires used to getting their way. There may be fractures within the group but too many are determined to get their cost certainty, either to ensure their franchise's success or increase its value for resale, for them to change their mantra.

Besides, should the owners change their tune after putting so many through so much to this point, it will offend all those who've suffered through the lockout because of their stance.

Also, it'll prove to the players the next labour disruption will end by January because they can't hold strong.

The only good thing that may come out of this exercise is the possibility the players will decide the time has come to rid themselves of Bob Goodenow in an effort to keep their high-paying jobs or the owners will let Gary Bettman's ship sale.

Better yet is the possibility both of those men will be fired, although that's a Technicolour dream.

Linden -- who organized tomorrow's meeting and decided to exclude Bettman and Goodenow "to change the dynamic" -- deserves kudos for trying a different tack to find a solution.

But it's not that different. This exact idea worked 10 years ago, when the lockout was settled by progress from the smaller, back-door meetings. Who can blame the players for trying it again?

But it's a new era.

This time, the owners won't likely succumb to the pressure.

Sadly, we can't help but think tomorrow's gathering will leave us all thinking of Macbeth: "It is a tale, told by and idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."


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