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Mushroom cloud on horizon?

Gloom, doom the general consensus concerning lockout

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Read into this what you will, NHL fans: the lockout has reached the 60-day mark, the two sides are currently not negotiating, there is a ton of doom and gloom and, perhaps, a smidgen of hope.

But most of all there is an overwhelming sentiment building among the game's faithful that the NHL's future is more likely to be represented by a mushroom cloud than a brilliant rainbow -- that this mess could be months from a resolution, not weeks.

"I guess that's possible, but I think the players are optimistic and hoping that we can get something done. I think we're closer than everybody thinks," said Ryan Reaves of the St. Louis Blues after Wednesday's skate at the MTS Iceplex with local NHLers. "If we could hammer something away in the next couple of weeks I think we could get the season started."

Still, that's hard to do when the two sides aren't even at the table. On Wednesday, Judge Arthur Boylan -- the same man who led mediation between the National Football League and NFL Players' Association during last year's lockout and a Minnesota Wild season-ticket holder -- told ESPN.com he'd love to step in and help.

"I'd volunteer to do it for free," Boylan said. "I'd love to get this thing done. I'd love to take a crack at it because it's truly the game I love. And, from a selfish standpoint, you'd really like to see them back on the ice.

"They know the future of the game is in their hands. They'd really be blowing this thing if it doesn't get resolved, it being the second lockout in recent memory. That would be a real disaster for everybody."

That's a position seemingly held by both sides. And yet, the negotiating games -- the point/counterpoint, he said/she said -- continues.

"It's a weird back-and-forth kind of tennis match," said Reaves. "They're proposing something, take it or leave it, and obviously they know we're not going to take it and then they back away from the bargaining table for a bit. It's a little bit of a game they're playing right now.

"Hopefully they can get down to some real bargaining and stop all the games."

Earlier this week NHLPA executive Steve Fehr indicated a deal could be made quickly when the time is right but that was countered by deputy commissioner Bill Daly when he suggested to Sports Business Journal "We're done making proposals."

And so if there was some optimism last week as the two sides met in New York, this week it's again been replaced by frustration. If there isn't a deal in place in next seven days, it is believed the NHL will cancel games thru Dec. 15. The next cancellation could be the season.

"Hopefully, it doesn't drag on too much longer but from what I'm hearing from the players' side is there's a lot of give from our side and they're (the NHL) not willing to give anything back," said Ryan Garbutt of the Dallas Stars after skating at the Iceplex. "That's just the way things are going right now.

"The owners are operating off a timeline here. I wish I knew more about it... I'm not in the room where they are doing the negotiating and I've only played 20 games in the league, so I only have so much pull. But I'm hearing from the players that it's kind of a slow process and the owners are operating off a certain date and they're going to start negotiating then.

"If the owners aren't willing to budge and they have Gary Bettman telling them what to do... I mean, they only need seven or eight owners who have to vote they don't want a season and, if we have 20 owners who want to get a season going, it's not enough. It's like an uphill battle for us."

In the meantime, those players who haven't found work in Europe or in the American Hockey League -- or were hopeful a deal could be hammered out quickly -- are again exploring options.

"Everybody's starting to think about it," said Reaves. "Everybody's getting bored and sick of this sitting around. We play hockey, that's what we do, that's what we love to do and if we can find a job for a month while this is still going on, it's better than sitting around."

Asked if the frustration of sitting around could lead to a "spirited" charity game this Saturday -- Reaves is one of several NHLers participating in Saturday's Goals for Dreams event at the University of Manitoba -- the Blues' big man just grinned.

"You might see me dropping the gloves with somebody, you never know," said Reaves. "No... it'll be fun just to get a little competitive edge out there. But, it's still a charity game."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 15, 2012 D2

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