SUN Hockey Pool

Hanging on to thread of hope

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

Even though the announcement to pull the plug on the National Hockey League's season is scheduled for 1 p.m. tomorrow in New York, there still is a tiny glimmer of optimism.

It is evident that neither side is willing to give up until it becomes clear that there simply is no other recourse.

As a result, the funeral procession that was about to get underway yesterday had to be postponed when the body twitched.

In the early afternoon, a leak from an NHL source revealed that commissioner Gary Bettman would make the season-ending announcement today.

The word spread quickly, and accordingly, the bulletins were posted on the electronic media.

The print media were saved from making the same mistake only by the fact that once-a-day publications aren't subject to the same kind of demands of immediacy.

But during the afternoon, the NHL Players' Association called the NHL and requested another meeting -- a meeting that was to be convened as soon as possible.

The top dogs didn't take part. It was once again the second-level executives -- Ted Saskin for the players and Bill Daly for the owners -- who did the talking.

There had been rumours over the weekend that the union would deliver some sort of last-ditch offer, but yesterday's meeting was no such thing.

The stance of the PA is that it already has made its last-ditch offer and it did so in plenty of time to save the integrity of the season. That's the offer that included the 24% salary rollback and was made public on Dec. 9.

Yesterday, the two sides met to explore their options and neither one delivered a new proposal.

There also had been reports that some players were urging the union leaders to accept a cap if the level were high enough, but such a change of heart on the part of the union would be highly unlikely.

The opposition to the cap has been steadfast and if the players were willing to accept a cap, they could have started negotiating the size of it years ago. They always have said they won't accept a cap of any magnitude.

NO RESOLUTION

It could be $100 million US, the union leadership has said. It doesn't matter. There will be no hard cap.

But even though there was no resolution -- or for that matter, even an indication that a resolution is anywhere within the realm of expectation -- yesterday's meeting caused enough of a ripple in the otherwise-still waters that the NHL decided to alter its schedule.

About 5:30 p.m., the league pulled back on its season-cancellation announcement and delayed it for a day.

As has been the case throughout these lengthy and unduly protracted proceedings, as much secrecy as possibly surrounded the talks.

Those who were willing to talk off the record -- on both sides -- said basically the same thing. "Don't count on any late developments. We're still far apart on the basic issues."

But the corollary to Yogi Berra's "It ain't over till it's over" is, "once it's over, it stays over."

So even though Bettman said last week that without meaningful progress over the weekend, he would have no choice but to cancel the season, there's no doubt that if the two sides started serious discussions today, the season would not be cancelled until those talks ran out of steam.

Not that there's anything wrong with such an approach. After the way the fans have been treated in all this, the least the two sides can do for them is explore every possible avenue.

And if the cancellation announcement gets delayed again, that can only be cause for optimism.

But don't count on it.


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