Hope runs out to save season

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:15 AM ET

The end, at long last, is near.

While NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stood before a microphone last night and talked about making a massive move forward with a proposal to try to save the season, in reality he just dug the grave a little deeper.

"I just had a chuckle, when I saw Gary's little trigger points (for a salary cap). I can't believe Gary would go public with a straight face over them," Colorado centre Joe Sakic told the Denver Post.

But the good news is Bettman has finally announced he will cancel the season if an agreement isn't reached by this weekend, ending the misery of dragged out and fruitless negotiations.

'GET IT OVER WITH'

Yes, the two sides plan to spend today huddled at the NHL's office in Toronto, but don't think for a second a deal will be reached. All the players are doing now is preparing for the official end of the season -- which they've anticipated for months.

"I would just like to get it over with," Dallas winger Bill Guerin, a vice-president on the NHL Players' Association's executive committee, told the Sun last night. "I'm not sure why this has dragged on as long as it has because everybody knew this (season's cancellation) was going to happen.

"It's too bad. But I think this is what the owners wanted in the first place. I'm sure that (cancelling the season) was the plan all along. I feel bad for the fans because they are the ones who are getting hurt by all of this. You had to see it coming. You can't say this is any kind of a surprise."

Accompanied by NHL executive vice-president Bill Daly, Bettman presented a proposal at the union's headquarters yesterday that the league knew didn't have a chance of being accepted.

In the end, Bettman simply wasted more people's time as the NHL continued its bid to become the first league to cancel a season in its entirety.

"That wouldn't be my No. 1 choice," Bettman said in a conference call with reporters last night. "But, in this case, we don't have a choice. The economics of the game have to be fixed. Right now, we're going to lose less than we would by playing.

"That's the harsh reality of the economics of our game. It's important for us and for our fans to get the system fixed. We've made every effort to try to save the season. We've brought the last three proposals to the table."

This season is beyond being saved. What's happening now is purely for optics and possibly so Bettman can bring in replacement players next season once he declares an impasse and ends the lockout.

Sure, if an agreement was reached, the league could start a 28-game schedule later this month with every team playing each opponent in its conference twice. But is that really a legitimate way to decide the Stanley Cup champion?

MORE SENSE

Some people at this point would settle for anything -- the author of this piece included. But it might make more sense to give up on this false hope for a year and try to find a solution in the summer that can work.

Bettman made a mistake last night. He should have just cancelled the season when he stepped to the microphone.

Sure, the two sides will continue to negotiate, but no one is kidding themselves that there's going to be NHL hockey this season.

Meetings that continue today will produce nothing unless the league decides it doesn't want a hard salary cap or the NHLPA waves the white flag.

The chance of either scenario taking place is none.

"I'm not expecting anything to happen," said Guerin. "I guess there could always be something, but you'd have to see some pretty significant moves to save the season."


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