While it’s hoped this current NHL lockout could end by December, a growing number of pundits are already suggesting another full season could be lost.

You know things are gloomy regarding CBA negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA when TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger and Pierre LeBrun are suggesting this upcoming season could be lost when it’s still late September.

Ordinarily I would chide a pundit suggesting the season may be in peril barely two weeks into a lockout, but when guys as respected as the aforementioned say it, I pay attention. McKenzie, Dreger and LeBrun aren’t “Chicken Little” types, so when they say it’s not looking good, there’s good reason to be concerned.

Their views reflect a growing pessimism among NHL scribes over the league and the PA reaching an agreement on a season-saving CBA at some point in the coming weeks or months.

Granted, the aforementioned trio made their comments a couple of days prior to the NHL and NHLPA meetings this past weekend to discuss “non-core economic issues”, with league commissioner Gary Bettman and PA director Donald Fehr twice getting together for private CBA talks.

Perhaps after this weekend’s discussions, which reportedly resulted in headway on some non-economic issues, and a “frank exchange of views” on hockey-related revenue (the main sticking point in the negotiations), there might be reason for some optimism, especially if the two sides decide to continue talks soon.

Or, quite possibly, no traction will be gained on the key issue of hockey-related revenue, talks eventually fall apart, and we end up facing another nuclear winter akin to 2004-05.

It seems unthinkable both sides would risk killing off another season – jeopardizing a $3.3 billion (and growing) industry – over a difference of opinion in the distribution of HRR, yet if we go by the pessimism of the punditry, that appears a growing possibility.

That means one side will have to blink first. Last time, it was the players, who misjudged the owners resolve to gain “cost certainty”, even if it meant the loss of an entire season.

This time, it’s been suggested the players have more resolve because they believe if they give in this time, it’ll serve as motivation for the owners to continue squeezing them for more concessions in future negotiations.

I’ve maintained the players won’t win a battle of attrition with the owners, and still believe it, but that could change if the players not only stand united after losing one entire season, but maintain that resolve in the face of losing a second consecutive one.

The rumored perception among the owners is the players caved last time and will do so again, even if it takes yet another cancelled season to force them into it.

But what happens to the owners resolve if the players refuse to budge, if they continue to stand united, and make further plans to sign with European clubs next fall, or force NHL teams to once again protect their prized young entry level talent by shipping them to the AHL for another season?

What happens if supposed moderates among the big market clubs balk at the notion of losing a second-straight season, and try to influence other team owners into reaching a settlement?

It’s quite possible the leverage could swing to the players’ side if, by this time next year, there’s still no new CBA in place, and a second consecutive season could be lost. It could also result in the NHL trying to use replacement players, which could take this labor dispute to a new level of nastiness, and a likely legal challenge through the US National Labor Relations Board by the NHLPA.

The team owners believe they’ll survived and thrive because the fans will come flocking back, just as they did following the previous lockout.

It’s still a gamble on the league’s part, but one the owners believe will pan out.

But if next season is also threatened, there is bound to be genuine concern at that point for the potential damage to the league’s product.

The NHL can survive a season-killing lockout, and might even thrive again thereafter, but the loss of two consecutive seasons poses a serious threat to the revenue it must have to survive as a business.

It wouldn’t “kill” the NHL, of course, but the league could be seriously damaged by the loss of two consecutive seasons.

Of course, such a scenario also threatens the players.

Ageing veterans could see their final opportunities for another year or two in the NHL wiped out. Those in their prime would lose two key years in their careers.

Promising young talent would see their NHL debuts delayed. Lower-salaried players would definitely feel the pinch.

All would lose prime years to leverage for more lucrative deals in the future.

That could lead to yet another player revolt, as they settle for whatever they can get in order to continue their playing careers.

Enough time exists for both sides to work out a season-saving deal. The fact they have rekindled negotiations just over two weeks after the last round of talks broke down prior to the expiration of the recent CBA is something of a positive sign, considering in the previous two lockouts, the two sides went months before speaking to each other again.

Still, the question remains, just how far are both sides willing to go to get what they want?

We’ll have our answer in the near future. It just remains to be seen how long it takes to reach it.