SUN Hockey Pool

Edmonton will win

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:04 AM ET

"I'm just a little disappointed that it went this far to play poker and to have someone call your bluff." - Matthew Barnaby, Chicago Blackhawks.

The giant game of chicken came down to two last runs across the road. And Bob Goodenow got hit by a truck yesterday coming and going. First it was in the form of a "Dear Bob" letter from Gary Bettman and then a rejection of his "Dear Gary" letter back.

Goodenow thus appears to have lost one of the biggest bets in the history of pro sport.

The NHLPA boss gambled that, in the end, the National Hockey League owners, like almost all owners in the history of pro sports, would capitulate in the final hours and do a face-saving deal.

WHAT THEY'D NEVER DO

On the last day before the dropdead day, after losing 834 of 1,230 games, the NHLPA shocked its players by doing what they told them they'd never do - agree to a salary cap.

It was a salary cap at $52 million US - one which would have put the Edmonton Oilers out of business - mind you.

For a few hours yesterday - for the first time since we all saw The War of 2004 coming, the two sides were finally talking the same language. But Bettman called Goodenow's bet. The result is an almost rude, take-it-or-leave-it letter which will go down in infamy.

The full letter can be read elsewhere on these pages. But the words which will become a part of hockey history are these:

"This is not an offer to begin negotiations - it's too late for that.

"We have no more flexibility and there is no time for further negotiation.

"I know, as you do, that the 'deal' we can make will only get worse for the players if we cancel the season - whatever damage we have suffered to date will pale in comparison to the damage from a cancelled season and we will certainly not be able to afford what is presently on the table."

With that, Bettman said take it or leave it - a $42.7-million US salary cap.

"If this offer is acceptable, please let me know by 11 a.m. tomorrow, in advance of my scheduled press conference. Hopefully, the press conference will not be necessary."

Goodenow countered the final offer by dropping down to $49 million for a cap. Bettman said no again.

"If every team spent to the $49 million level, total compensation would exceed what we spent last season and our compensation should exceed what we spent last season and exceed 75% of revenues. We can't afford that."

It's not over until it's over, but if you're a fan in the heartland of hockey, you have to believe Edmonton will now win.

What most fans here have been able to keep in mind during this entire lockout is that this has been very much about them.

When this is over and the players realize to the extent they bet the farm and lost, then you have a chance for an NHL that might be worth watching again.

These are players who grew up in this game believing in an entitlement that is beyond belief to most fans, especially in the area which produces so many of them.

They haven't understood why the fans, from beginning to end in this one, could be against them.

They didn't believe, probably because of their huge victory in the last collective bargaining agreement and the way the owners had made them rich in the seasons which followed, that it could possibly turn out this way.

But it has. The players have lost this and lost it big.

The owners are admittedly the ones most responsible for putting the game in this state in the first place. They're also the ones who had to legislate against their own stupidity at the final hour by giving Bettman his "eight men out" deal where all it took was eight owners to veto a deal.

SAYING YES TO THAT

But they did it. They said "NO!"

And in Edmonton, it says here, you have to be saying "Yes!" to that.

Whether Goodenow takes it or leaves it, you'll have a league where a team which fills an area and squeezes every cent there is to squeeze out of their fans, can keep its talent and compete.

Bettman probably won't, in many markets, be painted as a winner when the NHL commissioner makes the official announcement at a press conference in New York today that his league has become the first in pro sport to wipe out an entire season. But he wins here. Hockey will now win here.

When this all began, I wrote that it would be two Christmases before they played another NHL game.

But now that the players know what happened to them and where they're really at here, I suddenly have hope for hockey next October. In the end, I believe this will now be a season worth losing.


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