As they say in the Honeymoon Capital of Niagara Falls, "all that effort for this?"
Today, 30 million Canadians and about 1,100 people in the United States find out whether they get the NHL back after a lengthy bargaining session convened by the principals in the shadow of the Falls.
Linkage, that tidy expression for the connection of player salary to profit, management's supposed key to all future partnership, was peeled off the negotiating table on Friday night and formally tossed on the scrap heap Monday.
Yesterday, the salary cap, the mother of all motherhood issues, was volleyed across the table by the players.
You kids out there, take note. Whenever someone says it's not the money but the principle, it's always the money.
Look, I know people lie. There's an old adage that a lie told to a reporter isn't a lie at all, and that probably goes double for a lie tendered during a contract negotiation.
But what about a lie tendered to the fan, the customer?
What about the claims the game can be made better, or that teams make a meaningful economic contribution to their cities or that any of us should give a damn?
All that for this?
Please, spare me the picture of all the pained millionaires and billionaires, backing out of their mutual death pact, all for the sake of the game.
All the posturing, all the mendacity, all the voice clips from the boys in tuques swearing there would be no salary cap, all the leaked Armageddon scenarios, all the phoney deadlines, all just part of the scam.
It promises to be a nice reintroduction. "On behalf of the NHL and its union, the people who lied to you over the 154-day lockout, please come back.
"Check that. We also lied to you in the two years leading up to the lockout. Sorry about that. And about those lower ticket prices ... Anyway,Game On."
All that for this?
If the intention from both sides had been to accept a salary cap somewhere in the mid $40-million range buffeted with a luxury tax, why couldn't it have happened last August?
That goes double if a minimum payroll in the $30-million range is tacked on to the deal, as the union surely will insist.
How will it fly in Pittsburgh when Mario Lemieux will need to more than double his $13.9-million US prorated payroll (a figure, by the way, arrived at by the NHL's own accountants). Or Washington's $14-million payroll or the $17 million the Florida Panthers are on the books for.
NO BETTER OFF
Are the Canadian teams any better off? The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, both at $25.7 million, would be obliged to increase their payroll to meet the league minimum. Meaningful revenue sharing, meanwhile, remains off the table.
Memo to the weak sisters: The good news is the league has cost certainty.The bad news is, even when you factor in the union's 24% rollback, it's going to cost more to run your franchises.
The players will be no more pleased. They have been rendered liars or, at best, dupes, by their acquiescence to a cap they swore, nearly to a man, they would never accept. They have lost the brunt of a season, seen their league damaged in its weakest markets and must now brace for the inevitable job loss.
The players have kissed away more than $600 million in salary.
The owners, meanwhile, have inflicted incalculable damage to the sport and turned their back on somewhere in the order of $1.5 billion in revenues.
All because neither side would begin meaningful negotiations until last week. All because Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow invested their futures in unwinnable positions.
And so while the end game is played out, there can be just one saving thought. Next contract they'll both be long gone.