There are two thoughts that linger in the deepest, most cynical and fatalistic portion of our hockey brains.
The first is that a players' union doesn't hire Donald Fehr to strike a deal in October or November. The second is that the NHLPA, with Fehr carrying its flag, so despises Gary Bettman and so desires a victory against the owners that something as self-defeating as an attack on the salary cap might actually happen.
Fehr has now twice raised the idea that his players might attack the NHL's financial system — a system from which they've profited greatly, born from the blood-soaked wreckage of the 2004-05 lockout — if the owners don't offer a more equitable deal to the NHLPA.
The first time was in New York right as the lockout started, answering a question about the cap potentially being on the table during the lockout: "If we get past that point, then the players are as free to reconsider their positions as the owners are."
He did it again during a talk with the Toronto Star this week: "If this goes on for an extended period of time, I don't know what they (the players) are going to do. But I think it's safe to say, they would be exploring all options."
Halloween's a few weeks away, so for the moment this is the scariest stuff we've seen in October.
Given that the league was shut down for a season just a few years ago to get a hard salary cap, trying to spin the world around the other way would certainly mean more blood on the floor.
For a generation of players that has seen the game prosper and their wages grow along with it, it hardly seemed like a death struggle worth having, which is why their proposals to the owners to this point have kept a hard cap linked to revenues in place. But perhaps the mood has changed given the players' consensus view that the NHL owners have been looking at the lockout as elaborate money grab and playing them for stooges along the way.
The NHL was surprised — and pleasantly so — when Fehr didn't include an attack on the cap in the NHLPA's first offer. Why didn't the staunchest opponent of a cap system take on the NHL's system? Because the players asked him not to when Fehr and the NHLPA leadership made it clear that such an effort would require a marathon work stoppage.
Which is why these hints about the salary cap being on the table seem hyperbolic — no one actually believes the players, to a man, think the salary cap system has prevented them from profiting in this league; and no one actually thinks they have the stomach to go to war over that cap seven years after it was established.
And yet … you wonder. You wonder about the anger these players feel towards Bettman and the League. You wonder about how they feel about growing the League to $3.3 billion in revenue, and their "thank you" is seeing their share of that revenue dramatically cut.
You wonder if this stalemate inexplicably continues into 2013, if all of this resentment fuels a desire to go where Fehr probably wants to go, but the players are hesitant to follow him. And you wonder when, exactly, we'll ever see these players in the NHL again if they go down that road.
Again, bringing up the salary cap feels like a ploy right now. It doesn't seem possible. But then again, neither did two lockouts in seven years.