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Can NHL really be stupid enough to lose another season to labor fighting?

by | National Columnist

Commissioner Gary Bettman has plenty to iron out with NHL owners. (Getty Images)  
Commissioner Gary Bettman has plenty to iron out with NHL owners. (Getty Images)  

(Today's festival of overwriting, tortured logic and mangled syntax is brought to you by Craig Stanke, who whipped them all in his day and still had the time and strength to close with a beer. Typists everywhere salute you on your journey, Gray Eagle.)

The Stanley Cup Final reminds us of three things. Good goaltending overcomes a multitude of sins, good penalty killing overcomes even more and that one should savor moments like this when they come because they may not come again for awhile.

We're not kidding about that last one. It's time for a new collective bargaining agreement, and neither the revolutionaries nor the oppressors have seen fit to meet yet.

This, I think we can all agree, is stupid.

Yes, there is a timing to all such labor-management dances. You don't want to look too eager, or too strident, or too cavalier, or too fretful. A deal gets done on its own timetable, when the sides are ready to stop bickering and start dickering.

All that said, this is still stupid. In fact, since the league skipped an entire season only seven years ago for a similar reason, stupid is used here as a term of endearment.

The sport doesn't need an agreement today. There are lots of matters to be dealt with, most of them owner-on-owner crime as it relates to salary cap maneuvering and the haves trying to break away from the pack of have-a-little-bit-lesses. The part about hosing the players comes later.

But a little coat of conversational primer wouldn't hurt. In fact, since we've checked the rosters of both the Kings and Devils and seen neither Don Fehr nor Gary Bettman on them, there is no compelling reason why they can't sit down during the Final and at least hash out a framework for the arguments to come.

There's nothing clever or brilliant about pointing this out. The NHL's lockout in 2004-05 proved to be the template that scared all the other leagues to get deals done before too much damage was wreaked. The NBA came closest, and the game has suffered for it, though nobody seems to notice as the Heat prepare to prepare to face the Spurs in the Finals. The NFL got ugly, but in the end the union's weaknesses were exposed as they always are. And baseball just signed a deal so as not to have to bother.

But now that the point has been proven to the edification of all, the NHL has nothing left to prove to the rest of the sporting world. In fact, there is no good reason why the owners couldn't have already begun their own internal wars about whether the game should still be skewed toward the richest eight, or leveled off to help the other 21. We are omitting Phoenix because that remains a mess that even Hazmat suits cannot repel.

That will be where the real war is fought, and that is what has to happen before the slog of grinding down the salary cap to squeeze the players' skates begins.

Now we're willing to allow for the possibility that that battle can be engaged quickly and smartly, that the owners already have prepped and are whipping votes frantically to make the process as smooth as rich guys firing middle fingers at other rich guys can go.

But we doubt it. They got a clear win last time, they regard Fehr as a baseball guy who doesn't understand the hockey world (a bad bet, by the way, since he tends to pick up on and understand these things better than he is credited), and they like the brinksmanship -- which is Canadian slang for "finding out whose is bigger."

In other words, enjoy this series as best you can, for every save, blocked shot, killed penalty and officiating controversy, and despite the absence of John Tortorella, who has somehow become a continental icon of disdain and truculence. It will be worth the fortnight.

But get ready for a long, cold summer, too. The mistakes of the past are starting to feel like the mistakes of the future, because nobody is feeling the urgency to tackle the CBA yet. I mean, just how many seasons can you throw away before people start thinking you prefer it that way?

(And to close, a personal note. How was that, Stanks? We do OK this time?)   Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast Sports Bay Area (CSNBayArea.com)


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