Top Shelf: Getting nowhere fast

In the world of aviation, a holding pattern is when an aircraft is forced to fly in a circular path until the pilot is given clearance to land.

Back on the ground the phrase is used to describe a situation that has become static. After several recent labor meetings produced no progress, the NHL also could be said to be in a holding pattern, but it'd be more accurate to say that the league's negotiations have barely gotten off the ground.

With little more than a week to go until the scheduled start of the 2012-13 NHL season, neither side entangled in the league's labor battle seems willing to move an inch.

The owners are adamant that players agree to salary rollbacks and the NHLPA considers that proposal to be a non-starter. Also looming large is the fact the sides still have gained no ground in how hockey-related revenue should be defined in the next collective bargaining agreement.

Meanwhile, each passing day sees more NHLers heading overseas to skate in Europe's numerous professional leagues. If I were a betting man, I'd say those players will be keeping their new European addresses past Oct. 11, when the NHL is officially supposed to start the 2012-13 season.

Unless one of the two sides in this debate is bluffing and is ready to cave over the next few days, the NHL will be forced to begin canceling regular- season games this week. A report surfaced last week that the league is planning to eliminate games in two-week blocks, meaning the first cancellation would take us through Oct. 25.

Judging by the comments made by NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA head Donald Fehr on Tuesday the first round of cancellations seems inevitable.

The fact that representatives of the owners and players met a few times over the past week was a good sign ostensibly, but that was before Daly and Fehr doused any positive feelings with cold water.

"I'm really not sure where we go from here," Daly said. "We have done everything we can think of to try to engage the PA and invite them into a negotiation. But they aren't biting. I guess their definition of negotiating is making a proposal and standing pat until the other side accepts it."

Fehr responded to that statement by saying "maybe somebody ought to look in the mirror over there."

"They have made some incremental moves," Fehr added. "It's clear that the players have made substantial moves towards the owners and the owners have made substantial moves away from the players."

However, amidst all the doom and gloom a potential solution to the labor strife was floated to both Daly and Fehr and neither man dismissed the idea at first. That idea was getting a federal mediator involved to help move the owners and players beyond the current impasse.

Still, telling a group of reporters that your side is not opposed to mediation is not the same as formally agreeing to it as a solution. Both sides seem intent on winning the fight to define the next CBA and that could make them wary of giving up control in how they wage that war to a mediator.

In other words, things would probably have to get really bad before either side agreed to let an outside party settle the argument. According to Daly, the league projects that it has already lost $100 million due to the loss of the entire preseason schedule, but that barely moves the dial for a league that boasted revenues in excess of $3 billion in 2011-12.

I suppose when you're surrounded by nothing but rain clouds, even the slightest glimpse of blue sky is better than nothing at all.