The most frustrating thing about Tuesday's Bettman-less, (Donald) Fehr-less meeting between NHL players and owners is how much common ground the two sides have, yet how far away from a lockout resolution they are.
One assumes the majority of owners would support player platform planks like expanded revenue sharing, flexibility on long-term contracts (i.e., ones that offer "lifetime" deals but without cap circumvention) and a declining share of the players' take in revenue during the duration of the next CBA. (How steeply it declines is the issue.)
In an ideal world, the conversation in New York Tuesday afternoon would go:
OWNERS: "We like handing out long-term contracts. In fact, we handed out a crap-ton of them right before the lockout started."
PLAYERS: "And we like signing them!"
And then everyone hugs while Jeremy Jacobs grabs his phone and says, "Mr. Bettman … take us down to Lockout DEFCON 5."
Alas, it's not an ideal world, and not just because Bettman would be the one calling Jacbos to have him end the lockout. What the players are going to hear Tuesday will likely be the same message from different messengers.
Michael Grange of Sportsnet, killing it as usual, spelled out why the NHL pushed for this meeting:
The meeting was proposed by Bettman because no other steps in the process seem to have convinced the players that the owners will remain unwavering in their commitment to cutting back on their wages and contract rights, regardless of the players' opposition.
It's easy for the players and Don Fehr to suggest that the owners' apparent intransigence is due to Bettman and his hard-line loyalists. But what if that opinion really is widely held? That even perceived moderate owners are committed to the cause even in the face of growing sponsorship and corporate pressures?
What will the players think then?
It's really the same playbook at in 2005, when NHLPA president Trevor Linden heard a tale of woe from the late Calgary Flames co-owners Harley Hotchkiss and gained new perspective on the owners' motivations.
The question is: Are these really the effective heralds of the NHL's message that the league thinks they are?
Are Jeff Vinik and Mark Chipman seen as anything but Bettman loyalists, given the circumstances behind their respective ownership roles? Is Ron Burkle more effective than having Mario in the room?
Had this been Terry Pegula of the Buffalo Sabres, Eugene Melnyk of the Ottawa Senators and Mike Illitch of the Detroit Red Wings — all seemingly cemented as lockout doves — would the message have been more starkly communicated?
This could be a pivotal day. Not through negotiation, but for the players' perception on that negotiation. The 10-or-so players — including Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Miller and George Parros, reportedly — could walk out of that room with their resolve reinforced to keep fighting.
Or they'll walk out of that room with a new understanding of the owners' plight and a willingness to concede — at least that's what the commissioner hopes.