The Washington Times - May 31, 2012, 02:08PM

NEWARK, N.J. | During the Stanley Cup Final, the last thing anyone around hockey wants to think about is a possible lockout that could cost the NHL games next season.

But commissioner Gary Bettman on Wednesday night took exception to the very premise that a work stoppage is to be expected.

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“I don’t understand both the speculation and the degree of negativity that it connotes considering we, meaning the league and the Players’ Association, have yet to have a substantive discussion on what we may each be looking for in collective bargaining,” said Bettman, who announced that he will begin meeting with NHLPA head Donald Fehr in the coming weeks. “If somebody is suggesting it, it’s either because there’s something in the water, people still have the NBA and NFL on the brain, or they’re just looking for news on a slow day. Because It is nothing more than speculation at this point.”

It’s speculation based out of history and what appears to be a significant gap between management and players. The most specific source of negativity stems from the last CBA negotiations that cost the entire 2004-05 season.

They recognize that they made enormous concessions in the last round and that that is part of the backdrop that leads us into this round of negotiations, along with a lot of other things,” Fehr said. “The players know what happened last time.”

What happened last time included a 24 percent across-the-league pay cut and a deal that appeared at the time to be a major victory for ownership. Along with salaries and the cap, revenues skyrocketed to a record $3.3 billion for this year.

To the extent that the game can continue to grow, that’s in everybody’s interest,” Fehr said. “It’s a credit to the players, it’s a credit to the management people that have been working on it. We have to hope that that continues, and we’ve got to hope that nothing interrupts it.”

Fehr noted that there doesn’t appear to be the same climate of impending doom that might have been evident in public discourse in 2004. But he cautioned that doesn’t mean much.

Things have been on the rise for the NHL in terms of exposure and getting fans and attention back after the lockout and despite the lack of a real presence on ESPN. But that doesn’t mean negotiations will be easy, either. A bigger pie to carve up doesn’t mean less of a desire to split it equally.

“In the NFL there was no question that they all had profits either and they still locked the players out. We’ll see what happens when we get to that,” Fehr said. “I got some ideas as to how it’s going to go, but I have learned that making predictions in this business is a bit of a foolish enterprise.”