NHL Lockout: Who Will Blink First in Game of Chicken?

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2013

The cancellation of the season may be just days away.
The cancellation of the season may be just days away.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The days and hours are growing short.

Instead of the NHL and the NHL Players' Association getting together and working in the spirit of cooperation to hammer out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, it seems that the two sides are engaging in strong-arm tactics to see which side will show weakness first.

Much of this seems to come from commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL owners. Since the start of December, it seems the negotiations have taken on a familiar pattern.

The two sides break a period of silence and get together. They seem to make progress on a number of issues and the negotiations reach a critical stage. Then cooperation seems to go out the window, Bettman gets angry and the talks either break off or slow down.

In the latest meetings, the two sides have been talking since Jan. 3. On that day the two sides seemed to make progress on a number of issues.

TSN reporter Pierre LeBrun said that the NHLPA agreed to a 10-year term for the CBA, with the NHLPA having an opt out after seven years. The NHL wanted an opt-out after eight years.

Additionally, he NHL agreed to the NHLPA's request of two compliance buyouts per team, which was up from one per team before the 2013-14 season. 

The NHL increased its salary variance rule on contracts to 30 percent. Its original offer had been five percent and then increased to 10 percent.

Those talks went until 1 A.M. ET, and the two sides were scheduled to talk again the following morning at 10 a.m.

There were still seven or eight open issues, but the two sides were making progress. One of those open issues appeared to be over salary cap in the first year, with the league wanting a $60 million cap and the NHLPA asking for $65 million, according to Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet.ca.

However, when the two sides started talking the next morning, the union sensed a change in the NHL's attitude and felt the need to reassert its option of filing its disclaimer of interest.

The NHLPA had let its first option to file that disclaimer pass, and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr sensed the league's attitude had become more disrespectful.

The players also went to New York District Court to dismiss a December complaint filed by the league regarding the disclaimer process.

So instead of negotiating with each other, the two sides are in court battling. That leads to mistrust between the two sides and the NHLPA was also discovered a "miscommunication" in the Hockey-Related Revenue definition. That only increased the bitterness and mistrust between the two sides (source: TSN.ca).

This type of mistrust and bitterness during the most critical part of the negotiation process is called brinksmanship.

It is not about the two sides working out a fair deal.

With just a few days to go before Bettman has threatened to cancel the season (source: Winnipeg Free Press), it's about which side can strong arm the other.

We now wait to find out will blink first in this high-profile and high-priced game of chicken?

If neither side does, it may very well mean the cancellation of the season.