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NHL lockout: What, exactly, is and isn’t off the table in talks? (Trending Topics)

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy

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Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

I would love to believe there won't be a season at this point.

I would love to be able to rest secure in that knowledge, and then be able to go about my life without worrying about every breathless update from wherever the hell negotiations take place next week (the Moon!?).

I would love to be able to write off all the stupid and pointless posturing as being not worth anyone's attention.

But we all know, and have known all along in our hearts, that there was always going to be a season. All that talk from the NHLPA months ago about how the owners had a date in mind at which they'd end the lockout seemed to make a lot of sense, since there was no way they'd ever in a million years be dumb enough to torch a second season in eight years just to make more money for struggling southern franchises (or at least, you'd hope they weren't that stupid).

Of course, the League itself has always sworn up and down and around the corner that there was no drop-dead date, nor had it ever thought of determining one. Bill Daly reiterated that to Nick Cotsonika yesterday, saying, such a date "has never been considered."

Which seems like it cannot possibly be the case. I understand a lot of that is Daly, as usual, more or less stretching the truth (if we want to be kind to him here), because saying that the League has even entertained the idea would be something into which Don Fehr would sink his teeth and lock down like a pitbull.

Consider the real facts, and not the spin Daly pumps out.

For example: We know Gary Bettman has said that anything less than a 48-game season would be distasteful to the league.

(Before we continue, let's just pause for a moment to enjoy the comedy of the NHL thinking that, say, a 42-game season would be The Thing that de-legitimized this season; and not, say, the drawn-out kabuki the league and its teams are making their fans and players and other paid employees sit through. How absurd and bad the league would look to everyone… if it called a less-than-48-game-season the same as an 82-game slate. Right.)

But anyway, given that the league has named dates by which a collective bargaining agreement had to be signed to play, say, all 82, or 62, or whatever, we obviously know that it also has such a date in mind for cramming 48 games in. This date has been the subject of some speculation and debate, as you might expect, but know for absolutely certain that when and if that day comes and goes, the chances of there being any season at all will go with it.

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Again, though, the League almost certainly won't let that happen. And that's what Don Fehr is betting on. He seems to be approaching the negotiations at this point — and one assumes he's basing this on his years of expertise hammering out this kind of thing — as if the NHL's drop-dead date, which is real, is in the very near future.

That's the one thing you, as an NHL fan, can actually criticize him for. His approach is to lean on the League for as long as possible until it's backed up to a point at which it has to take the decisive action to save the season after an embarrassing lockout it imposed on itself.

That is delaying the start of the season to some extent, but his only other alternative was to acquiesce to the painful demands the league has been trying to con the players into taking. Seems obvious by now that the owners will always hate and vilify the union head lining across from them, especially because this one, and the circumstances that led to his appointment, seem to have steeled the PA's resolve to rally around him, rather than run from him when they started missing paychecks.

On the other hand, if the League is dumb enough to douse the entire season in gasoline and throw a match on it after all, then the weeks after that decision comes down will be terribly interesting indeed.

At this point the League has a credibility problem as it relates to the non-existence of its drop-dead date. Apart from the obvious reality that such a date exists, at least insofar as logic dictates it should (always dangerous to bring logic into NHL CBA discussions, I know), the fact that this we learned something in the latest round of meetings — with mediators back at the table because why the hell not at this point, right?

We learned through TSN insider Darren Dreger yesterday morning that the Angry Gary press conference was what it appeared to be: theater.

He said the League's offer that week, the one Ron Hainsey says was contingent on players signing it more or less behind Don Fehr's back, was off the table. According to Dreger, though, it's not that simple:

"NHL has delivered the message it is pretty much a take it or leave it, however, that doesn't mean the league won't trade on certain things."

Now, correct me if I'm wrong here, but "take it or leave it" means you can either take the deal as is or not get it at all. That deal included $300 million in "transition payments" which are the closest thing the players would ever get to make-whole.

When quizzed as to how a take-it-or-leave-it deal had any sort of wiggle room, Dreger clarified that, "teams insist $300 mil is gone and $211 is in serious question." But that's not the same thing as the entire deal being off the table, which is what Bettman said.

I subscribe very much to the idea that Bettman has had the deal to which both sides would eventually agree sitting in his desk drawer the entire time and was just waiting until the drop-dead date before oh hey look what I found right here wow this looks pretty palatable doesn't it, buddy?

I'm sure it's a giant coincidence that someone on the Board of Governor's all of a sudden got a mostly-reasonable proposal sketched out for Scott Burnside right when things with federal mediators seemed to hit the rocks again.

I think the word I've used most often when describing the NHL's attempts at Cold War-era subterfuge and acting quality usually reserved exclusively for Ed Wood films is "transparent." And if I or the Brothers Fehr have misjudged the owners' resolve in getting the deal they want, and only that deal, pushed through, then this is a funny way for them to go about things.

It's amazing that everything can be so transparent and obfuscated at the same time, but then I guess this is the NHL CBA we're talking about. None of it is ever going to make sense.

Pearls of Biz-dom

We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?

BizNasty on prudent decisions: "Tim Thomas picked a good year to sit out."

If you've got something for Trending Topics, holla at Lambert on Twitter or via e-mail. He'll even credit you so you get a thousand followers in one day and you'll become the most popular person on the Internet! You can also visit his blog if you're so inclined.

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