Gary Bettman ‘prepared to cancel NHL season’ next week: Report

Well, here we go. The end game. The National Hockey League has established its deadlines – including a Jan. 19 start date to preserve a 48-game 2013 regular season – and now Commissioner Gary Bettman is reportedly ready to swing with the big hammer at the NHLPA.

Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press reported on Thursday night that a veteran member of the NHL’s Board of Governors told him Bettman is “prepared to cancel the season on Thursday if a deal has not been reached or appears to be imminent.”

From Lawless:

The league believes Fehr is unwilling to do a deal until after Bettman has cancelled the NHL season and the union leader is now slowing the process one last time to increase pressure on the commissioner, said the governor late Wednesday night. Such a gambit could be put to the test as early as next Thursday and the governor said it will come up empty for the players and finally the fans.

If the NHL and NHLPA cannot come to a settlement and sign a new collective bargaining agreement by Thursday or Friday of next week, Bettman will announce the cancellation of the 2012-13 season.

… Bettman will be willing to listen and talk with Fehr after he cancels the season but it will be on the basis of doing a deal for the 2013-14 season. Once the commissioner cancels this season, a 50-50 share will no longer be offered and the league will pursue a much revamped package because the owners will have no incentive to make the deal that was on the table.

(This isn’t meant to impugn Lawless’s reporting, but it should be noted that the Winnipeg Free Press was Bettman’s chosen outlet for one of the only interviews he’s given during the months-long lockout, back in November.)

The end of next week would be Jan. 11, which is the date Bettman has confirmed previously as essential for getting a deal done in order to begin training camps for a Jan. 19 launch. So it’s not exactly a shock to hear that next week could bring a cancellation if talks go off the rails – or if it appears Donald Fehr has no interest in cutting a deal.

Still, the BOG member is more direct than Bettman’s been: No substantial movement by next week, no season.

Do you buy it?

I don’t think there’s any question that NHL ownership has some warring factions with regard to playing this season or scrubbing it.

[Related: Lockout staredown all about timing]

One imagines big market teams like the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens want to play. So might a team like the Minnesota Wild, which is paying significant bonus money to two prized free agents and not capitalizing on that momentum.

There’s pressure on Bettman to get a deal done, but there’s also pressure on him to get the right deal done. And there have been whispers of dissatisfaction with the duration and effectiveness of this lockout on the NHL side for months – not to mention Jon Miller of NBC telling the Boston Globe that “we never had any indication that this situation with the NHL was going to last until January. It was always our understanding that this was going to be a tweak and a fix.”

But it doesn’t matter how many, or how many influential, owners are cheesed off about the lockout because all Bettman needs are eight votes to kill any effort to accept an NHLPA CBA proposal – and he has at least eight owners that can circle the wagons around him.

As Lawless notes, this cancellation talk comes as the NHLPA circles back to a disclaimer of interest vote and comes at a time when the two sides are knee-deep in mediation in an attempt to bridge their many gaps on the CBA.

Both sides know the NHL will have to make a decision on the season’s fate shortly. Bettman may want to cancel it; but what do his 29 bosses ultimately want to do?

And what will the players do when finally faced with potentially losing this season?

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