With the NHL cancelling the entire block of their November schedule and reportedly threatening to axe the 2013 Winter Classic, NHL CBA talks are reaching a potentially crucial stage, which could decide the fate of this season.

Pressure may be building upon the respective leadership of the league and the NHLPA to reach a resolution to this lockout over the next month in order to implement a shortened, meaningful schedule.

Thanks to the NHL’s gag order upon the team owners, we have no real idea just how united they are behind Commissioner Gary Bettman and his negotiators. All we’ve heard is speculation and gossip about some owners supposed unhappiness over Bettman’s hardline tactics.

PA director Donald Fehr has a more difficult task, trying to keep his 700-plus membership united whilst engaging in his own tough stance in negotiations with the league.

To his credit, Fehr has imposed no “gag order” upon the players, leaving them free to voice their opinions whenever they wish.

For the most part, the players still appear firmly united behind Fehr, not disguising their frustration and disgust with the owners in general, and Bettman in particular.

Of late, however, a few players have taken to seemingly criticize both sides (San Jose’s Dan Boyle) or walking back previously harsh criticism of the owners (Ryan Suter). Fehr, meanwhile, admitted in a recent interview some players are concerned about lost wages.

That’s leading to suggestions of cracks appearing in the NHLPA’s solidarity. TSN’s Darren Dreger recently speculated it could be the players who “blink first” in this showdown, citing the growing loss of wages as one reason.

It’s understandable where that expectation comes from. The PA caved during the last lockout, especially after the NHL cancelled the 2004-05 season. It’s apparent by the league’s latest stance it expects the players to fold again -secure in the knowledge the fans will return should another season is lost to a lockout – even if it takes the cancellation of another season to bring the players to heel.

Blogger Tom Benjamin suggested back in August the players shouldn’t employ half-measures during this labor clash with the league.

Essentially, either the players must be prepared to fight for what they want, even at the risk of lost wages and another lost season (or two), or just quit wasting everyone’s time and accept whatever the league is offering.

We all know the league will kill a season if that’s what it takes to get what it wants, as Bettman’s and his cabal of influential owners believe it’ll make up those losses when their ever-forgiving fan base comes running back.

The players, on the other hand, face losing wages they’ll never get back. Already this lockout will cost them two months pay, and the loss of an entire season means those salaries will be gone forever.

We can argue over the validity of that stance, but if the players are determined to get what they consider a fair deal, and perhaps put Gary Bettman’s tenure as league commissioner into jeopardy, then it could be worth the short term pain for long-term gain.

The bottom line, however, is they can’t engage in this battle of attrition with the league if the result is giving in once again to whatever the league wants.

Fans have painted PA director Fehr as the bad guy here, but he’s doing what he was hired to do by the players: represent their collective interests, and battle for the best deal he can get for them. As frustrating as that may be for the fans and some in the punditry, that’s what his role is, and so far he’s done quite well at it.

That being said, it won’t mean a damn thing if the players decide in two months, five months, a year or two years from now that this isn’t worth it, and end up accepting another CBA essentially written by the league, just as they did back in 2005.

Understand that I’m not acting as a cheerleader for the PA here. If they decide tomorrow they lack the stomach for this scrap and take whatever the league offers to end this lockout, so be it. I want this dispute to end just as much as every other fan, blogger and pundit, and I really don’t care who “wins” or “loses”.

What I’m saying is if concern over the short-term loss of wages is greater than battling for long-term results, the PA should just quit wasting everyone’s time, accept the league’s 50-50 offer, and get back to work.

Of course, that’ll kill off any serious thought of the players standing up for themselves in future labor talks. They’d be better off hiring a trained chimp to represent them than wasting the time of an experienced sports union leader like Fehr.

It would further cement Bettman’s position as league commissioner, silence once and for all any criticism from supposed “moderates” among the owners over how he runs the league, and ensure the players will continue to be squeezed for more concessions in future CBA negotiations.

The NHLPA will be forever a joke, better off de-certifying than passing itself off as a union looking out for the players interests.

It’s time for the players to fish or cut bait.