NHL's sorry story gets more bizarre

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 1:24 PM ET

This is just plain nutty. And yes, it really is happening. The nightmare of a cancelled NHL season became reality three days ago. I'm almost positive I saw it with my own two eyes, heard it with my ears and couldn't believe it was taking place at the time.

But I'd come to accept it.

At 1:03 p.m. on Wednesday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stood in front of a microphone at the Westin Times Square in New York and killed the season because there was no collective bargaining agreement in place.

While he left a small opening for NHL Players' Association boss Bob Goodenow to come back with a new offer, nobody expected the union would go for it. But suddenly, remarkably, there could still be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Sources say the two sides are expected to return to the bargaining table today in New York with an eye toward a season-saving deal. It seemed like less than even a remote possibility when Bettman shut it down.

PLAYERS STUNNED

Even the players can't believe there's a chance they could actually be playing this year.

"If this gets done, that word you used -- nutty -- might be the best word to describe it. What else can you call it?," said Columbus defenceman Luke Richardson last night from Cincinnati, where he's visiting with friends.

"I'm sure everybody would be happy if the season could be saved. I think the owners would be happy, the players would be happy and I'm sure the fans would be happy. I've kind of accepted the fact there's not going to be a season. Hopefully, it can get done, but I'm trying to focus on other things -- like time with my family now."

If this deal happens, then it'll show you the power of people. Since Bettman cancelled the season, phones at the union's Toronto office have been ringing off the hook with calls from angry players who weren't happy with what happened at the 11th hour.

The question Goodenow and his executive committee -- which includes president Trevor Linden -- has heard the most is: Why didn't the NHLPA pick up the phone to see if they couldn't find a way to make a deal?

What happened was the league and the union decided to play a risky game of chicken with each other. That might be why Bettman has spent the last couple of days offering the union the chance to come back to the table if it so desired.

Bettman said he's quite willing to "suffer the embarrassment" of going to back to the microphone and announcing the season will be played if the NHLPA decides it wants to go back to the bargaining table.

Part of the problem was the ultimatum tone of Bettman's offer Tuesday, which was delivered with time ticking away. The players were insulted by the fact it was a "final" offer and didn't like the release of a letter to the public which indicated as much.

"I watched that press conference and I couldn't believe he was standing there cancelling the season," said Richardson, an Ottawa native. "I didn't just think he was cancelling the season, I thought he was cancelling the game.

HARD TO WATCH

"I was totally disappointed. I had a hard time watching it and I couldn't believe it was happening. I didn't want to watch it, but I couldn't stop. To me, what happened that day was a tragedy -- not like 9/11 -- but it was something that was tough on the hockey world. If there's a chance hockey can be played, that would be unbelievable after everything we've been through in the last five months."

Now, Bettman and Goodenow are going to take one last shot at saving the season.

You have to think that this time, they'll get it right. It's simply hard to believe the next time you see Bettman, he'll be standing before a microphone a second time to cancel the season ... again.

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com


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