Hockey means so little now

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:03 AM ET

Maybe you had to be there.

Maybe it's all part of the sense of disconnection North Americans are feeling about hockey right now.

Whatever the reason, yesterday's loss by Canada to the Czech Republic didn't cut to the core as much as other defeats have.

It is more than a suspicion that a Canadian victory, by the same token, would not have resonated as sweetly as have past victories, either.

That isn't intended as disrespect for the men who wore the maple leaf on their sweaters and played with pride and passion the past couple of weeks. The world championship produced some high-calibre hockey, to be sure.

It's just that not enough of it was played by the Canadians.

C'est la vie.

For those of us back here, it just didn't seem to matter as much.

Only a collectively bargained end to the senseless impasse between the NHL and its players will start to make hockey matter again in these parts.

If we are reading recent developments -- actually one development in particular -- correctly, there doesn't seem to be any reason to think a deal is at all close.

Late Friday evening, the NHL Players Association sent out a press release that didn't get a lot of exposure, either over the airwaves or in the weekend papers.

The NHLPA had scheduled a major get-together of its rank and file members for May 24-26, an informational session as well as an exchange of ideas. It might have even been an opportunity for executive director Bob Goodenow to take his association's temperature and perhaps re-assess his position.

But that meeting is off, cancelled after a conference call involving team representatives.

After a series of bargaining sessions last week and with more scheduled this week, a person couldn't have been faulted for thinking something positive must be happening.

Apparently that assumption couldn't be further from the truth.

"In early April, when we set the May 24-26 meeting dates, we thought these dates would work well to allow both North American and European-based players to get together," NHLPA president Trevor Linden told the Associated Press.

"Since our late February meeting with 156 players in Toronto, we decided there is not sufficient new information to justify another meeting at this time."

Which is just another way of saying the two sides are getting absolutely no where in their quest to arrive at a new CBA.

It has been surmised that the NHL governors should be more motivated to find a solution so they could solidify their TV and major sponsorship deals as well as allow individual clubs to start mending the ravaged fences with their fan bases in advance of season ticket campaigns.

That may be true but, at this time of year, there essentially is no urgency for the players to come to an agreement other than to ensure they'll be paid NHL wages next year. But their paycheques don't start flowing until October, if at all, so they are under no serious pressure to settle right this minute.

And apparently there is not sufficient pressure on the owners for them to come off their hardened position.

There is a window of opportunity right now to get a deal done that would minimize the damage to the industry that has already accrued. But unless the owners change their stance, that window will close by July and won't re-open until once again the pressure is back on the players.

The longer it goes on, the clearer it becomes that this is a fight to the death.

It is a war of wills and until the resolve of one side or the other melts, the stalemate will continue, killing the goose that laid the golden egg in the process.

That process will be ugly and embarrassing for the game and the people who think they run it.

So don't feel bad if you didn't get all revved up about the world championship.

That was just the NHL's way of preparing you for something far less appetizing: Replacement players by the middle of November.


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