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By Steve Silverman
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Sitting at the negotiating table is a step closer to ending the mind-numbing NHL lockout, but progress has been slow.
In mid-October, when the NHL Players’ Association made a counteroffer to a previous NHL proposal, Gary Bettman pretended to be insulted, got up on his high horse and left the meetings.
Bettman’s No. 2 man Bill Daly met Donald Fehr’s No. 2 man with the NHLPA, Steve Fehr, to see if there was any common ground between the two sides last weekend.
Since Bettman was not involved in the process, they were able to talk about the issues of the lockout and how to solve them.
This week, the two sides have met for four straight days, but there are still significant differences.
Players are getting antsy because they are missing paychecks. They are letting Fehr know that they want to get back to work and they want to get paid.
Bettman is also hearing from some of his owners who don’t want to endure a full-season lockout like they did in 2004-05.
That’s probably why they are meeting now.
However, there’s not quite enough pressure to force either side’s hand completely. If the NHL and NHLPA were to come to an agreement in the next few days, the season could conceivably begin the day after Thanksgiving. That could allow the league to cobble together a 70-game schedule for each team.
But let’s say the lockout continued throughout November and went until early December. That would give the NHL a chance to put together a schedule of 55-to-60 games, with games starting at or around Christmas.
A 70-game schedule is fairly solid, but there’s no reason that 55-to-60 games for each team couldn’t be reasonable either. Last year the NBA played a 66-game schedule that culminated with the Miami Heat winning the NBA championship.
You didn’t hear anyone say that the Heat were not legitimate champions because they didn’t play 82 games.
In 1994-95, the NHL played a shortened season of 48 games per team. That’s about as far as they could go and still have a season that plays out with some legitimacy.
The point is that while both sides may feel some pressure at this point, they don’t feel compelled to get the deal done today.
There’s little doubt that Fehr wants to get a deal done, get his players back on the ice and do it in a fair manner.
However, Bettman appears to be trying to pressure players into accepting the best deal for the NHL owners.
Bettman doesn’t understand that as commissioner, he is supposed to be looking out for the best interest of the NHL. He may be paid by the owners, but he is supposed to do a lot more than simply look out for their bank balances.
Bettman doesn’t look at it that way. He is interested in winning the battle and getting the players to capitulate. He is not ready to try to forge a fair deal.
The two sides probably have at least one month left to solve their differences and save the season. It seems unlikely that reason will prevail any time soon and that a fair deal will put players on the ice any time before January.
It’s an insult to the players, their leadership and the fans. But that’s how Bettman plays the game.
Who do you blame for the ongoing lockout, NHL players or Gary Bettman? Let us know in the comment section below.