The fanbase of the NHL has been put through the ringer this summer. Both parties can agree about that. But, as of right now, that's all the two sides can agree about.
Wednesday was a day filled with a significant amount of hope. Maybe more hope than the fans have had through this entire process. The NHLPA gave a counter-proposal Wednesday afternoon, and the NHL responded almost immediately.
Gary Bettman told the media the NHL had once again made "significant movement," except this time he was telling the truth. The owner's offer did make significant movement, maybe not enough to get the NHLPA to accept the deal right away, but enough to get them thinking.
There was only one catch, the deal was a "take-or-leave" option. The NHL would be willing to negotiate off the deal, but if there was no agreement reached by the 15th the deal was off the table.
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In the end, the reasons why the deal gave the fans hope was what actually makes things much worse.
Gary Bettman is not a man who should be mocked in these situations. He should be feared. Make no mistake, the NHL got the deal they wanted in 2004. The NHLPA swore they would never accept a deal with a salary cap. They did, just a year later. This time around, the NHLPA swears they won't accept a deal if the owners get to rollback salaries be it from actual rollbacks or escrow. Sound familiar?
When Bettman narrows his eyes and tells the media that the current proposal from the NHL will be off the table, you better believe he's being serious. That's not a threat, it's a promise. He did it in 2004 -- the NHL's final ultimatum offer back then was better than the deal the NHLPA took after the year-long lockout -- and he's willing to do it again.
So Fehr and the NHLPA can continue their little dance and refuse to deal with the owner's offer. I'm not too sure how many people here side with the owners. But you have to accept the fact that Fehr hasn't handed these counter-proposals well at all. He refuses to deviate from the plan the player's originally sent out, continuously cites the MLB in almost all of his media sessions and sometimes doesn't even give full proposals back to the league. Neither of those things are helping anyone. And, in fact, it's forced the timeline of these negotiations to go sour.
Make no mistake, if September 16th rolls around and there is no new deal, the two sides will be further apart than they were when these negotiations started. Forget square one. Both sides will be too pissed off at the other to even think about concessions right off the bat.
Both sides have major faults. BOTH sides should shoulder all of this blame. There was no reason for Fehr to spit in the NHL's face with their current offer. I don't care how late the offer came -- in reality, the offer the NHL threw down on Wednesday should have been their second offer -- there was something to work with there.
Instead, Fehr ignored the offer and continued to go off of his own proposals. Which he has done every step of the way. I don't blame Bettman and the owners for getting frustrated there. I do blame the owners waiting until now to make a real offer, but the point is still the same: Both sides get blame here.
But the reality is that it doesn't matter where the finger of blame is pointing when all is said and done. If there is a lockout -- and at this point that seems more of a certainty rather than a possibility -- then both sides take blame.
At the end of the day it doesn't matter who gets the blame. If there's not hockey come October then everyone loses.