If there is no new collective bargaining agreement by late December, the NHL players will have a difficult decision to make, and their choice will determine the fate of the upcoming season.
They will need to decide whether or not they want to play a shortened season and give in to the owners again or stand up for what they want and likely lose another year of hockey.
According to Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada, the NHL's cancellation of regular season games could begin quite soon.
NHL teams preparing for regular-season cancellations this week. Expectations games will be erased in two-week "blocks."— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) October 1, 2012
If the players show any sign of losing the solidarity they currently have or that they are willing to make substantial concessions, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will use that weakness as an opportunity for the owners to get everything they want in these labor negotiations.
Once Bettman gets the players to give up on one issue, he will force them to give in on every important issue until the owners get pretty much everything they are looking for, just like in 2005. This means the players' best hope of making a deal that benefits them as much as possible must be made soon.
As I've said before, when the players don't have enough money, their resolve will be put to the test. Each player will receive an escrow check in the amount of about 8.5 percent of their 2011-12 salary on October 11, which isn't much for players used to making over $1 million in normal salary.
Once the money from the escrow check is gone and players are starting to feel the increasing pressure from fans to get a deal done, the tide will turn against the players. When will this happen? Sometime between American Thanksgiving and early December is a fair estimate.
It's possible that a season could be started in early January, but that seems like the latest possible start date to ensure the 2012-13 season is actually played in some part.
"I think people don't think it can go a year," Cleary said after several Wings held an independent skate at Troy Sports Center. "As players, we think it can. Maybe longer."
"Just trying to be realistic," Cleary said. "I think the league is waiting for us to make the move, and we're waiting for them to move. So someone has to move. And I don't see it coming from our end. We've given them a couple of good options that they can work with, and they, obviously, feel it's not good enough.
"We're at a stalemate, I guess you can say. We're stuck in the middle right now."
The players might be content with losing a season right now, but for people as competitive as NHL players, going another season without hockey is going to be tough to do.
They will say the right things now to paint a picture of solidarity, but in late December, when the chances of playing any games this season are rapidly decreasing, time will start to run out on the players.
If the players don't make concessions in December and the season is cancelled soon after, most of the players' leverage in negotiations will be gone.
The responsibility will be on the players to save the season, and when the fans start pressuring them, guys start needing paychecks again and the possibility of losing another year becomes very real in December, the tide will turn against the players, and they will be forced to give in to most, if not all of the demands made by the owners thus far.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also the organization's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. Follow him on Twitter.
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