If NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players' Association union boss Bob Goodenow decide today to ice what slim chance remains for a season, they shouldn't emerge from the room until they have a new collective bargaining agreement in place.
That's the view of Detroit Red Wings forward Kirk Maltby, who doesn't think the two sides should stop talking once this season officially is cancelled. There is an assumption talks will end when it's clear there will be no season.
"If the season is lost this year, there should definitely be no excuse why they can't get something worked out between then and next fall," Maltby said yesterday before he appeared as the guest speaker at the 2005 Ontario Hockey League all-star game luncheon here in Owen Sound.
"After losing a season this year, if that's what happens, it would be extremely disappointing not to start on time next season. Everyone just wants to get playing again.
"Trust me, I am as sick as anybody of going to the gym on a daily basis and trying to work out and finding something new to change the routine."
Maltby, who has stuck close to his Michigan home and his wife and 10-month-old daughter this winter, shares the frustration of other NHL players who can't understand why the NHL and NHLPA let so much time elapse between talks.
"It has just been wasted time," Maltby said.
Of course, the salary cap proposed by the NHL at most of the steps along the way has killed any enthusiasm the NHL players may have had for negotiating.
Few will argue the NHL isn't being hurt in various ways because of the lockout. But former NHL star Dale Hawerchuk is among those who think the game will eventually prosper.
"It does not look good right now, but probably the one thing I take out of this is I think something very good is going to come out of it," said Hawerchuk, the honourary captain for the Eastern Conference all-stars. "But cost certainty would have to come through in a soft cap with luxury taxes.
"I think it would work."
If Hawerchuk was in charge he would get rid of the draft as it stands.
"I would rather see it go to 19 or 20 years (instead of players being eligible at 18)," Hawerchuk said.
"When you look at some of the old drafts, 10 or 12 of the first picks walked right into the league. Now you have one or two guys who do that and the rest you don't see for three or four years."