Major step by governors

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:09 AM ET

Apparently, the National Hockey League's governors are fans of that well known philosopher Mark Knopfler, who wrote the following lyrics for his song Nobody's Got The Gun:

You can't go playing poker

With a pistol in your sleeve.

You can't make somebody love you

By threatening to leave.

FATALLY FLAWED

To their credit, the governors finally have figured out that the proposed tactic of using replacement players was fatally flawed.

Yesterday, in New York, the governors agreed to make a sharp about turn, stop threatening the players, and let it be known that it is their intention to attain a deal through negotiation, not coercion.

Commissioner Gary Bettman tried to imply that this move was not a change of stance, although that was clearly not the case.

"We as a league are committed to -- and preparing for -- the 2005-06 season," Bettman said last month. At the same time, he strongly implied, without using the term, that if there was no new CBA in place, the NHL would use replacement players.

That was a stance that was subsequently echoed by team executives. Both Los Angeles Kings president Tim Lieweke and Edmonton Oilers governor Cal Nichols have said recently their teams intended to start the season on time, whether a CBA was in place or not.

Nichols, for instance, said, "I think that we can move forward and plan to play a season however it happens this coming year."

But as a result of yesterday's announcement, it is clear that the concept of using replacement players, which the general managers found reprehensible, also has been discarded by the governors.

The owners took the pistol out of their sleeve and replaced it with an olive branch, obviously a major step toward a negotiated settlement. At the same time, the owners took upon themselves the burden of undertaking effective negotiations as soon as possible so that the new season can start on time.

The reason that the owners assumed this stance is that they sense that the chasm between themselves and the players has narrowed of late.

There's no doubt some major issues remain to be settled. Furthermore, a deal may not be reached for months. But at least there is now an understanding that the two sides are committed to getting NHL players back on to the ice in time to start the 2005-06 season.

Dallas Stars president Jim Lites offered a clear note of optimism.

"They're inching toward a settlement," Lites told Pierre LeBrun of the Canadian Press after the conclusion of the governors' meeting. "We're on the same page finally."

For some reason, Bettman chose to play down the governors' decision, perhaps because he didn't want to be portrayed as a man who has seen his primary strategy reversed.

In a convoluted explanation of the developments, Bettman said, "The fact of the matter is, and we made this clear over the last month or so, we were going to explore all of our options. That doesn't mean you're doing it or not doing it. It doesn't mean it's a good idea or a bad idea.

"Obviously if we can't open on time, the options become an issue again, but it was never that it was in and and rejected or out and accepted."

Okay. If you say so.

This sense of co-operation and conciliation began in Detroit two weeks ago when the general managers, a group of senior players and some executives from both the league and the NHLPA, all spent a couple of days together in the hope of developing rules that would make the game better when it returns.

NOTHING TANGIBLE

Although nothing tangible could be cited as an example of an easing of hostilities, it was clear that such a sentiment was there.

Yesterday's step by the governors is one more indication that the thaw is underway and that despite serious differences, the two sides now appear to be able to reach a settlement.


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