The word of the week is "patience."
We've all got lockout fatigue. Fans, sponsors, players, coaches, executives and media. As one GM said Saturday: "I hope this ends, because we're all tired of it." But this isn't going to be easy.
It would be criminal not to have a season based on where things stand. But, it doesn't mean Donald Fehr is going to deviate from his plan. He's controlled the tempo of these negotiations for some time now, and he's convinced the players that waiting is the best strategy.
They're tired, but they're listening.
That's why it will be very important for Gary Bettman and Bill Daly to control their frustration. Fehr is an infuriating opponent. He stalls, he delays, he takes longer water breaks than a camel at a Saharan oasis. He's already slowed down this process, asking for more clarifications on the NHL's latest offer, meaning actual negotiations will start later than the league wanted.
At least Bob Goodenow yelled back at you.
But, the NHL's lead negotiators can't get caught up in that now. The endgame is littered with landmines and they will need to keep their cool.
Here's one possibility: I think the players want to have an exhibition game or two. Some guys haven't played a game this year, while others need the opportunity to win a job. All those guys who've improved in the AHL this year -- "two or three guys per team," according to several executives -- have the advantage.
The problem: I'm not sure the league wants anything to do with this idea. I could hear eyes rolling over the telephone when I brought it up to a few people. How much of a problem is this going to be? No idea. But it shows the kind of last-second issue that will add aggravation to the next week.
(Suggestion: if exhibition hockey actually occurs, let people in for free. Holy Mother of God, gouging fans for those would be an awful idea.)
There's a story Fehr tells that should be repeated right now. During one of his MLB battles, the owners and union were getting close to a deal, when a couple of the players told a reporter they couldn't wait to get back and play. The league read those quotes and pulled the offer. (I've looked for the specific story, but can't find it.)
I have no doubt he is all over his current clients to be careful what they say. It's close. But we've got a wavy ride ahead.
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