SUN Hockey Pool

Don't be fooled, Charlie Brown

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

There's a little bit of Charlie Brown in all of us. No matter how many times Lucy pulls away that football just as we're about to kick it, we always hope that next time, things will be different.

So when the National Hockey League stages yet another meeting with the NHL Players' Association, even though we know better, we always have that niggling hope that this time, the result might be positive.

It's time to stop running up to that football. If you're waiting for a meaningful meeting now, you might as well wait for mail that was on the Hindenberg.

Here's how these meeting go. Every so often, in the fervent hope that the other side might have decided to make a complete change of strategy, the two sides get into the same room.

Then, after a short time together, they head off to separate caucuses. In some cases, this is just a strategy to rattle the cage of the other group. In some cases, it has to do with a need to discuss the latest proposal from the other side.

It must be made clear that these proposals are not top-to-bottom radical new offers. They're rarely more than a small clause that is almost certain to be rejected.

NOTHING TO OFFER

On its good days, the NHL might make another offer that is nothing more than a variation of the offers it has made so many times, based either on a hard salary cap, or a linkage to revenues, or both.

The NHLPA then reiterates its stand. It has no interest in any agreement based on revenues for two reasons. First, as a result of the owners' lockout, revenues are going to be dramatically reduced. Second, there is ample evidence -- the league's own Levitt Report providing a perfect example -- that the owners hide revenue.

As for the hard cap, the PA has no interest in that either. It wants a marketplace economy in which players are paid whatever the owners decide they're worth without artificial structures.

The PA did briefly move off that stance, but it did so only as a legal strategy to counter a no-linkage proposal from the owners. Once the season was cancelled, so was the PA's agreement to accept a hard cap.

On its good days, the NHLPA might make another offer that is nothing more than a variation of its Dec. 9 offer, the one that incorporated a 24% rollback and which is universally accepted as workable by the general managers.

The NHL then reiterates its stand. It wants linkage and/or a hard cap.

So what really happens at these meetings? In a word, nothing.

Each time though, some form of erroneous report usually emerges that appears to be a glimmer of hope. In the latest instance, as reported on a local radio station, it was an assertion that the PA had agreed to a reduced roster.

This debacle is almost certainly going to be settled in the courts. The PA is not going to run up the white flag at this stage. Because the league treated their Dec. 9 offer with such disdain, the players are more galvanized than ever.

If there is to be any reversal of course that would keep the matter out of the courts, it will have to come from the owners.

Perhaps that could happen. The owners always planned to cancel the full 2004-05 season. Only total capitulation could have altered that strategy.

But now, they have to decide upon their next step.

With a workable offer on the table, do they want to risk the loss of their businesses for the sake of a principle?

There's no doubt that within the ownership group, there are many who would gladly drop the hard-cap concept for the Dec. 19 offer. And perhaps they could command a majority.

But if we accept that premise, we'd be taking another run at the football.


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