Would a lockout be dangerous?

"We need to get to making a deal and doing it soon," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said recently. (Kathy Willens/AP)

Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, says fans will return to games even if the league has another lockout.

Based on history, he's probably right.

But Bettman, whose league lowered some of its demands in Tuesday's negotiating session - gradually moving to a 50/50 share of the revenue, and not rolling back existing players' contracts - is being naive if he thinks a lockout won't hurt his sport.

Fact is, the NHL must make an all-out effort to avoid a lockout. Why? Because if there's a third lockout in the Bettman era, I have a feeling the NHL will confront the most dangerous word in sports: apathy.

I'm already hearing fans say if the season is delayed for, say, two months, they won't lose any sleep. There's plenty of football to watch and, besides, the NHL's regular season means little. Look at last year, when an eighth seed (Los Angeles) and sixth seed (New Jersey) reached the Finals.

In other words, Bettman will probably have to keep lowering his demands. If not and a lockout ensues, fans might think a 50-game schedule is more than enough - and the NHL needs 82 games to keep its revenue stream flowing.

The clock is ticking.

Follow Sam Carchidi on Twitter @BroadStBull.