Wake up and smell the cap

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:15 AM ET

The latest "last chance" meeting is tomorrow.

Yaaaaawwwwwn.

Unless there's a deal signed and Bob Goodenow and Gary Bettman step forward and shake hands, stop telling the hockey world this.

(Riding off into the sunset afterwards isn't a bad option for that pair, too, but that request could be asking for too much.)

Unless one side is really going to change its position in a key way, it won't matter because all that's going to happen is the same rigmarole experienced in the last seven days.

Let's recap. Both sides get together for what's supposed to be a private meeting in an unknown locale, yet announce it so all the media can find it.

Hopes are high because they seem civil to each other.

However, the "negotiations" take an ugly turn because neither side will capitulate and the players immediately stomp out, bluster a bunch of the same-old, same-old about it's for sure a lost season.

A couple of days later, after what is supposedly a cooling off period, it all happens again -- like shampooing your hair: Lather, rinse, repeat.

Now they're set to meet in Toronto tomorrow, again without Bettman and Goodenow.

And it comes amid a Toronto media report that the two sides could meet in the middle. The report floated the idea of a cap with a ceiling in the $50M range, a deal that would also include a luxury tax and player profit sharing.

But we've heard other rumblings of consensus in the past.

And still no deal to speak of.

If this latest meeting is going to be the same treadmill, spare us.

People who care are tired of being strung along in a public relations ploy.

Besides, unless the owners have been lying all along, the dispute now on Day 131 is not about this season.

It's about a system for 2010-11 and beyond.

It's about long-term.

Players keep saying over and over they're doing everything they can to save this season. Everything but provide cost certainty, the one thing that will guarantee a 2004-05 campaign.

Yet, they don't seem to realize that's not ownership's main focus in the NHL lockout.

Just last week, after the "secret" get-together in Chicago's O'Hare Airport, Flames GM/head coach Darryl Sutter said as much.

"I really believe how long it takes, is how long it takes," Sutter said.

Now we know what Bettman meant when he said both sides were speaking different languages.

All too soon, players -- knowing word will soon come the $1.5 billion they would have received in salary and bonuses has disappeared forever -- will continue to spew what we've heard for so long:

* A salary cap is evil.

* Owners can't be trusted.

* Gary Bettman is steering the league straight to a lost season.

As the famous Seinfeld episode went: Yada, yada, yada.

Maybe, they're right seeing as the owners have no qualms about charging "fair market value" for tickets, parking, food and beer but there's a reason Bettman and crew is less frantic. They're willing, if that's what it takes, to skip a year in the hopes it'll mean those players will accept cost certainty next fall. That's why they have a $300-million US war chest.

Bettman and the owners know they're playing a dangerous game of chicken.

What if a year from now the players still haven't capitulated and a second season is lost? A third?

What if -- assuming an attempt is made -- they aren't legally allowed to use replacement players?

What if the fans and sponsors, the true lifeblood of the NHL, refuse to invest their dollars and heart after an agreement is found?

It may not be the right thing to do and the acrimony will only get worse but, apparently, the owners believe it's worth it.

So, unless something miraculously changes, ready yourself to see the same tired movie again and again until Bettman finally pulls the plug on the season.

At least then they'll go into hiding.


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