If you have given up hope on the owners and the players resolving matters in the NHL's latest lockout calamity, then go ahead and make your reservations for the 2013 world championship, which will be jointly held in Stockholm and Helsinki in the spring.
Just like in 2005, when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman cancelled the entire season it could be the most meaningful hockey with NHLers playing we may witness this season. It was quite a blast 7 ½ years ago when goalie Martin Brodeur, Dan Boyle, Rick Nash and Joe Thornton lined up for Canada, but lost in the gold-medal final to the Czech Republic.
Realistically, though, how close are we to seeing this latest abomination of a labour dispute result in the cancellation of another season?
Although Bettman claims that he has not set a "magical" drop-dead date as to when the season will be nixed, this 82-day lockout likely is down to its final 40-day window to save the 2012-13 regular season.
It's simple math really. Bettman remarked in his doom and gloom press conference in New York on Thursday that he can't imagine anything less than a 48-game schedule. That means the two sides better strike a deal by mid-January.
In 1994-95, when the players and league agreed to end that bitter five-month standoff, the two sides agreed to a deal on Jan. 11 and had the 48-game season up and running nine days later.
"I certainly hope we don't get to that date," Bettman said, when he was asked if there was a deadline as to when he would cancel a second season in eight years.
But what has to happen in order to avoid seeing another NHL season go down the dumper?
Will members of the NHLPA file a disclaimer of interest, a less formal and faster process than decertification? The players certainly have discussed at length the possibility of this transpiring. But the tactic doesn't seem to scare the NHL.
After rejecting the latest offer from the players on Thursday evening, the league told the union that they would not meet with the players' side on Friday. NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr acknowledged a possible resolution is once again on hold, even though it appeared both sides were as close as ever on Tuesday.
"This won't be resolved in the immediate future," Fehr said.
There was plenty of pomp and circumstance surrounding the three press conferences after the NHLPA presented its latest proposal on Thursday - two by Fehr, a rebuttal jointly conducted by Bettman and NHL deputy Bill Daly.
But I thought the most telling sign was the frustrated faces and blank stares of Sidney Crosby, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis, who flanked Fehr as he addressed reporters after getting the news via a voicemail that the NHL had rejected the players' proposal.
We'll know the level of dejection Crosby felt in the next few days or even weeks. He has said on a number of occasions this fall that he was considering a move to play in Europe. Eleven days ago, he mentioned that possibility was getting stronger.
But that was before Crosby and Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle were hailed as possible saviours to this labour dispute, when they were part of a dynamics change in the negotiating room and sat across the table from each other for the first time in this lockout on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Maybe Crosby, who is a positive thinker, and Burkle, who is known as a dealmaker, can take another kick at the can next week or the week after. After all, Burkle's statement on Thursday evening didn't come across as glum as the words from Bettman, Daly and Fehr.
"We made substantial movement on our end quickly," Burkle wrote. "But unfortunately that was not met with the same level of movement from the other side. The players asked us to be patient and keep working with them. It's not what they do and they wanted us to know they were committed.
"We understood and appreciated their situation. We came back with an aggressive commitment to pensions which we felt was well received. We needed a response on key items that were important to us, but we were optimistic that we were down to very few issues. I believe a deal was within reach.
"We were therefore surprised when the Fehrs made a unilateral and "non-negotiable" decision - which is their right, to end the player/owner process that has moved us farther in two days than we moved at any time in the past months.
"I want to thank the players involved for their hard work as we tried to reach a deal. I hope that going backwards does not prevent a deal."
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