The owners emerged victorious.
If only they were more gracious winners, we might have NHL hockey this season.
So says Flames captain Jarome Iginla, who yesterday admitted the league indeed won the battle in the fight for a new CBA but, in Gary Bettman's haste to claim victory, lost the war.
"It'll be another fight again," said Iginla one sleep after the league cancelled the 2004-05 season. "Next year, realistically, a lot of players will be in Europe, and when the NHL is interested in -- I won't say giving a fair deal -- when they're interested in being gracious winners, then the hockey will start again."
A day after the NHL commissioner pushed the self-destruction button, Iginla was still angry, discouraged and frustrated over what had transpired between the players and owners.
Most upsetting to Iginla and the rest of the PA was how their decision to come off their "no-cap" stance didn't become the final piece of the puzzle to save the season.
To him, the move -- essentially submission in the fight, seeing as the players also gave a 24% salary rollback and agreed to a variety of other mechanisms to slow salary escalation -- was greeted only with insult by Bettman, who responded with a take-it-or-leave-it offer.
"You could see the reaction of the guys around the league. They were disappointed it had come to this. They weren't disappointed in the committee, they were disappointed with the feeling, 'They won,' " Iginla said.
"I know it's not a win/lose thing but guys were prepared to accept that was what it was going to be. But after that, (the NHL) wasn't a gracious winner ... Instead they wanted to crunch it a little bit more."
Now questions abound whether there will be a next season.
Iginla, who expects to play in Europe, doesn't see it happening.
"I don't see how," he said.
"I can guess where we start. Everybody's going to acknowledge the revenues have gone down but they're going to say, 'It's gone down worse than we thought.' We'll say, 'No it didn't' and we're going to argue and it'll cost another year.
"The owners have a long time, I guess. It's their gamble and their calculation to reach for more. It disappoints and frustrates me it was so close."
Certainly, in his mind, closer than the $6.5 million gap between where both sides were in their final proposals. After all, Iginla points out, teams don't have to reach the cap level.
"The real thing that put it over the top was them saying every team was going to be at $49 million. Teams weren't at $49 in the old system," he said.
"They have the right to say no. They're not forced to go to $49 million, they're not forced to pay a $1.50 tax, not forced to play a $1 tax. It shows they don't want any responsibility whatsoever. I don't get it.
"You'd think that for $3 million to 4 million, they could have saved this season and next season, too. And they don't even have to spend it. It's three or four million hypothetical dollars.
"We're not taking $3-4 million out of their pocket. We're saying, just in case the teams with $100 million in revenues want to keep their team together to have a run for their fans, let them, at a cost of $1.50 per dollar tax that goes to the bottom teams. But the league said, 'No, no, no.'
"I can't believe it's worth it to the Flames owners and so many other owners to lose two seasons," he added.