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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman (Mary Altaffer/AP)
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman (Mary Altaffer/AP)

Watch what I do, not what I say Add to ...

With many signs pointing to this week as Crunch Time 1.0 for the NHL labour talks, it's time to slide a few musings in under the wire in case the whole thing blows up or is miraculously defused, action-movie style (don't cut the red wire!).

For the record, I'm not predicting a deal will get done in the next seven days, but miracles do apparently happen and there are clear incentives on both sides to move with alacrity, mainly of the financial variety.

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First, the players: The main demand on the NHLPA's side is that every contract currently signed is honoured on a dollar-per-dollar basis, with no funny stuff. But if the players resist the owners' entreaties past a certain point (ie. the league's preferred date of Nov. 2) and Gary Bettman irrevocably cancels a third of the season's games, that roughly means they'll have lost exactly what they stood to lose from the league's last offer when hockey eventually resumes and they're paid pro-rated salaries.

Holding out longer for a settlement means further financial concessions - and negotiating from a position of weakness is not something the PA wants to have to do.

All of that seems to add up to a clear incentive for the owners to do precisely that, but real life's slightly more complicated, both actors in this conflict have something to lose.

Which brings us to the owners: In 2004, there was no broadcast partner and few big-ticket corporate partners, the same isn't true now. Those folks aren't necessarily going to be happy if a big pile of games get scrubbed from the schedule (although uncertainty is arguably worse). The other thing is a lot of owners will find ever-growing swaths of fans want their season-ticket money reimbursed - most teams processed their renewals this summer, weeks before the lockout - and a lot of that money will have to be paid back with interest.

To say nothing of the fact that while some teams are perfectly happy to not have to pay players right now, others are starting to feel a revenue pinch that's only going to get more uncomfortable.

Canceling games for the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend - a television sports bonanza - and scrapping the Winter Classic outdoor game and All-Star showcase is the last thing the owners want to do, even though they'll surely threaten to do just that at some point this week.

My general advice to anyone following labour disputes is to not believe 100 per cent of anything said by the people involved - watch what they actually do, don't get caught up in the theatrics.

But Bettman seems to be absolutely right about at least one thing he says: time is getting short to play a full season. According to the estimable Elliotte Friedman of CBC Hockey Night in Canada and his big-buttoned calculator, the drop-dead date for 82 games is roughly Nov. 6.

Look for the rhetoric to escalate between now and then.

But the two sides have an apparent consensus on getting to a 50-50 revenue split, the argument now is mostly about how long that should take.

It's in the interests of both parties to stretch this to the limit to try and get the deal they want, and perhaps push it beyond just to see what happens (it may be possible to start in mid-November and still get 82 games in), but if there's going to be a settlement by Remembrance Day the indications should start to come within the next few days.

Follow on Twitter: @MrSeanGordon

 

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