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October 20, 2012 | 6:34pm ET


Far sooner than later
Despite each side's attempt to win the public battle, these CBA negotiations need to pick up steam.

LOS ANGELES -- When HBO makes a television mini-series about these CBA follies (hopefully not to replace Maple Leafs-Red Wings 24/7), it's sure to win multiple Emmys.

The network won't have to cast professional actors in the lead role of Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman because their real life performances have been award-winning.

If you're a fan, you have every right to be depressed after this week's latest exhibition, but you should temper your sadness because what's not going public is the continued dialogue between the two sides.

The more I hear the rhetoric and those awesomely bad pressers, the more I believe it's a smoke screen to distract the media from the traction that is being made behind the scenes.

The latest give-and-take was the release of NHLPA head Donald Fehr's love letter in the ice to his constituents. The tome was made public Saturday and I'd like to think it was done to give the fans a clear picture of how reasonable the NHLPA's demands are. Setting aside the fact the only fans that can truly comprehend the proposals need to possess an advanced degree in economics, the real reason we all get transparency is because the NHL did likewise earlier this week.

The day the public posturing stops will be, in using Fehr's phrasing, 'the very good day' for us all. I agree that there is no legitimate business reason for a rollback in player salaries. This wonderful group of athletes has worked their entire lives to get to the apex of their industry. Their average career lasts six fleeting years and at great physical risk. I don't begrudge them dollar one and in comparison there's no limit to what the top 700 doctors or lawyers in the world earn.

But the point is coming soon where the players and Mr. Fehr have to take their heads out of the ice and look around. They need to look at the sports they directly compete against -- the NFL and NBA -- to see the trend where players no longer take the larger cut of the pie. Neither league was in financial dire straits when their impasse hit, yet those cousins of the NHLPA rationalized that 0 per cent of zero dollars was the worst deal of all. There was no reason for Tom Brady or Lebron James to take a haircut other than they wanted to play, words now conveyed by many NHLers both privately and publicly.

The further reality is that if the players signed on the line that is dotted for the current offer, not one of their lifestyles would change. There would be no repossession of the Maserati, no foreclosure of the house on the lake, and the summer trip to Europe would still be on the docket next summer.

The real life impact of Drew Doughty playing for $5.7 million instead of $ 6.5 million is non-existent and that's why the players appeal to the principle and not the reality of the impact of the owners not wanting to honor the deals they struck.

If you're an accountant and your boss walks in and tells you, "we're reducing your pay from $60,000 to $52,000," you can likely find another job with another firm for your existing pay.

And then there are the owners. They're beauties, too.

Do you really need to go from 57 per cent to 50 per cent in one fell swoop? Really? Seriously? Of course, you don't.

These champions of industry -- none of whom directly rely on the income from their teams -- need help right now? Murray Edwards, the Calgary Flames' majority owner, controls a nice hunk of the Alberta oil sands, while Mark Thomson, at the top of the food chain for the Winnipeg Jets, runs that cool little company Thomson Reuters.

There is zero reason the owners couldn't get to 50 per cent over time, not necessarily over a five-year stretch, like the Players' Option 2 at 5 per cent growth suggests, but within three years.

After Bettman's quick rejection of all three proposals, I can't help but feel that more than one dude sitting in corner booth at the country club was puffing on his cigar in front of a martini while saying to his cronies, "How did you like my boy Gary today?"

I've said since the start of summer that the owners are slow-cooking the players; they're not billionaires by accident. They'll get their pound of flesh one way or another, either getting the players to agree to the current deal now or a variation of it to execute half a season that will affect an $800 million cost savings the players will never get back. The latter makes 12.3 per cent escrow look like a great deal.

So, when things don't look great, but certainly not the darkest, there are X factors in this continuing saga that will push both sides closer to each other and ultimately a settlement that likely has the NHL playing 70-76 games this season. It won't be a federal mediator or a labor board, but rather parties who have a very real stake in the matter.

At some point, dozens of hockey wives will be fed up with their spouses pacing around the house like caged animals. Word on the street is the extra, no cost hands in managing the household and the kiddies already have diminishing returns. The tipping point may very well be the scores of badly cooked meals presently served by the same hands that net 30 goals every season. When we look back in retrospect, these moments may be the defining ones that have this group of heroines rise up en masse and say, "go back to freaking work, I can't stand it anymore."

While Bettman takes all the hits publicly, one of his valued lieutenants not named Bill Daly is getting jammed up privately worse than a number three defenseman with a pissed off hockey wife.

John Collins, the NHL's Chief Operating Officer and as responsible as any for the rise in -- wait for it, I've not mentioned the phrase the entire piece -- Hockey Related Revenue, is getting sweated big time these days. He's the business guru Bettman lifted out of the NFL who has crafted long-term deals with major partners to get to the $3.3 billion that is being held hostage.

After reassuring his clients that the lockout would not be an issue for the coming season over the summer, they're now pressing him daily on not how but when the impasse will end. Talk about escrow and rollbacks all you want, what Fehr and Bettman ignore (at least publicly) are the long-term relationships that now hang in the balance. It's the multi-year deals with Honda, Bridgestone, Molson Coors and Scotiabank that allow Dennis Wideman to get more than $26 million over five years and if the season is lost, I expect to these firms to voice their displeasure.

The business magnates who run the NHL know that while they can screw with one segment of customers (the fans), they can't lose PepsiCo because they'll either not get them back or will do so at lower revenues, a risk they're unwilling to take.

If you're fan sitting at home, tired of watching re-runs of All-Star Games on NHL Network and fret over whether you'll ever activate that NHL Center Ice subscription (please don't tell me you let it re-new automatically), go watch a Brooklyn Nets pre-season game on NBA TV or go to a movie for another week.

Both sides continue to talk and with every 24 hours that burns towards the deadline of losing an 82 game season that everyone truly wants, we'll all get there sooner than later.

See you at the rink. Eventually.

Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period Magazine. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.

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