SUN Hockey Pool

Just deplorable

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:03 AM ET

Gary Bettman stood behind a microphone in the early afternoon and said he was sorry -- and rarely has he been so unintentionally honest.

Not sorry as in apologetic. Sorry as in pathetic. Sorry as in deplorable.

Everyone is so damned sorry on this historical day of misfortune, twisted tales and finger-pointing.

The day the music died and the hockey died right along with it.

At least Bob Goodenow had the good graces to roll his eyes and look less than comfortable when asked if he was sorry. Forever unapologetic, Goodenow did what he always does: He blamed Bettman for the lockout, the cancellation of the National Hockey League season, the weather and the crisis in the Middle East. If he could have, he would have blamed him for health care and high tuition fees, too.

In fact, the only game being played yesterday -- and rather ineptly -- was the blame game. For the first time in the history of professional sport, an entire season has been cast aside in a ill-fated battle between greedy and greedier.

A sad fight between two sides so arrogant, so ignorant, so myopic, so inflexible that neither could figure out an equitable manner in which to divide $2 billion US. Instead, they have engaged in a bout of liar's dice, gambling with the very future of their league and their game.

Never mind making a deal. These two sides couldn't even figure out how to tell their stories without contradiction. They look at the same pictures but see different images.

Bettman blames the players. The players blame Bettman. The truth, in this fight, is that both sides have erred terribly and have irreparably damaged their business and their sport.

In fairness to the owners, they asked the players to re-open negotiations on a troubled collective bargaining agreement more than three years ago. The players refused.

In fairness to the players, they offered a salary rollback of 24% in December, the first meaningful point of negotiation, which should have formed the basis for some kind of settlement.

In fairness to the owners, who began by insisting on cost certainty and a salary cap at $31 million, they came off their finite stance of linkage and increased the salary cap number to $42.5 million. That should have been enough to make a deal.

In fairness to the players, who were insistent there be no salary cap, they suddenly indicated to a mediator last weekend that they would abandon their rigid stance once linkage was removed.

Both sides, far too late in the brief negotiations, took bold steps. Just neither saw it that way. They got into the late innings but couldn't find a way to close.

"We don't share the same view of our business, a business that isn't working," Bettman said.

Responded Goodenow: "We do understand the economics. To suggest otherwise is totally wrong."

And this is how it goes and how a season went. The league is now shut down for business. For how long, nobody knows. The offers, whatever they were, are now off the table.

"I hope when it's over, it's worth it for the players, but I don't see how it works out that way," Bettman said. "The best deal that was on the table is now gone."

And the game is gone with it. With so much blame to go around it's hard to know where to begin. Neither side negotiated in good faith or, in fact, negotiated much at all. Everything the players offered had a catch. Everything the owners offered was an attempt to get 10 years back all at once.

In the end, each side got what it deserved and the fans, typically, ended up as victims. A sorry situation for one and all.


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