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Hurry up and wait — only time will end the lockout

Nov 29, 2012, 1:15 PM EDT

End the lockout Getty Images

The NHL would love the players to think the season could be canceled tomorrow. Forget mediation, that would be the best way to get the union’s best offer.

The consensus opinion, however, is that the owners won’t pull the trigger until the New Year.

From the CBC’s Elliotte Friedman:

The 2004-05 NHL season was cancelled in February, but it probably won’t be that late this time. A few executives believe the true “red alert” is between January 1st and 15th.

A couple of weeks ago, veteran forward Mike Knuble said he thinks negotiations will start in earnest “sometime in December.”

“I just think that when the NHL wants to be serious about talking we’ll get a deal done. But I don’t think they’re at that point yet,” Knuble said.

“I believe they still feel their time line isn’t there yet. When it will be I think we’ll all know it and I think things will happen pretty quickly when they get to their time line.”

While it’s easy to panic (the league is hoping the players are doing exactly that), it’s important to remember that compared to this time in 2004 (back then, the players were still steadfastly refusing to accept a salary cap), the two sides aren’t actually that far apart.

But as Friedman notes, the “concern among the [moderate owners] is that the mushroom cloud between the two sides continues to build, which endangers the possibility of a last-minute settlement.”

One way the mushroom cloud could build is if the union were to start the decertification process. Last week, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said that “would likely lead to the end of the season.”

Another way is if the owners were to pull the $211 million they’ve offered to the players in “make whole” funds off the table.

Unfortunately, as more time passes without an agreement, both those options become more likely.

Bit of a Catch 22 there.

The two sides, along with federal mediators, are back at the negotiating table today. However, there hasn’t been a ton of optimism that third-party intervention will help end the lockout.

The most important factor in this process has always been time.

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