My gut feeling since the NHL lockout began on Sept. 16 was that the season would get canned and commissioner Gary Bettman himself would suffer the same fate shortly thereafter.

As our friend Jack Walsh told The Duke in the film “Midnight Run“: “John, you’re in this mess because you’re in this mess. I didn’t put you in this mess.”

In the 1990s, Bettman expanded wildly without any concern for the fact that while these new owners might have been able to scrape together a franchise fee, they had little left over for a tiny detail called “payroll.”

So, because of his maniacal desire to turn transform a quaint hockey league into a diluted on-ice version of the pathetic NBA (complete with salary cap Bettman helped design as David Stern’s lieutenant), he’s got no revenue for at least one year.

Hmm, sounds like a great business plan.

Now, if I’m Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, I’m furious that because of Nashville and the small-market Canadian teams, I get bubkus this year (at best) and whenever they come to some agreement, I get to see declining revenues so I end up with one superstar and a bunch of rookies all so Atlanta can make the playoffs every other year.

This is why I had no problem with baseball’s approach. I had to come to grips with the fact that the Yankees are the Red Wings and I can’t bitch about the one and delight in the other.

Another reason why I think Bettman is the key conspirator here is because the players showed continued effort to give back – including the one thing they said they “never” accept: a salary cap. The owners offered zilch in return and should be ashamed.

I watched Bettman’s weasel press conference and came away convinced that the man is out of touch. By the by, is he getting paid this year? I wish I had seen the NHLPA news conference but I had to get a few things done by end of day. The players, I would suspect, will get more people on their side…at least for a while. Eventually fans will get fed up (if they aren’t already) and lump players with the owners as one big bunch of wealthy shmucks.

We hear all the time that Sports is a business. True, but it’s still in a world of its own. Imagine if I said to my creditors, “You know what? I can’t afford all this stuff. I’m locking you out. You can send your bills but they’ll sit in my mailbox until I get more income and you lower your payments.”

What if I told Wells Fargo Mortgage that, yes, we agreed to the terms of the mortgage but I’ve decided I simply don’t want to pay that much every month for this house.

I’m thinking they’d begin their reply with “Tough shit, sir.”

By Mike McClary

The Arizona Republic

I met a friend for coffee just before the holidays, and over the course of conversation, he said that he thought auto mechanics were underappreciated.

“They’re highly skilled, well-trained and, basically, we put our lives in their hands,” he said.

How could I argue with that?

We moved on to other topics, but I found myself thinking about it later that day when I took my daughter to the hospital for what appeared to be an increasingly serious illness.

For the next 48 hours, we stayed at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea and I began to understand just how many professions, like a mechanic or plumber, simply fly under the radar – until we need them. They touch our lives at the most critical moments and then essentially vanish.

During our time at the hospital, one person after another swooped in to take my daughter’s temperature, make sure she had plenty of juice, or deliver another pillow or coloring book.

Each of them – Dave, Anthony, Piper, Lisa, Connie and a handful of others whose names I never knew and probably never will – took the time to ensure that my little girl had what she needed to make her stay more comfortable.

And while my daughter slept, these same people were in another room, caring for someone else’s child. If those kids are lucky, they, like us, won’t need the nurses and technicians again anytime soon. But, boy, will we be thankful they’re around if we do.

A few years ago, I told a priest that I felt bad praying to God only when I needed something. He laughed and said, “That’s when you’re supposed to pray. And when things are going well for you, he moves on to someone else who needs him.”

With apologies to the almighty, I think this idea applies to earthly professions, too. Like the tow-truck driver who shows up when your fuel pump goes kaput on Loop 101. Or the air-conditioning repairman who comes to the rescue on a Sunday afternoon in August.

Or, the nurse who is starting another 12-hour shift in the pediatric unit at a local hospital.

From now on, I’m going to make it a point of recognizing these people before our paths cross. I won’t be sending cards and flowers, but perhaps a simple nod to a school bus driver or a more enthusiastic hello to the police officer.

Of course, I won’t feel guilty if I don’t drop by my mechanic’s shop just to shoot the breeze. Besides, he’ll be busy helping someone else.

Which is fine.

Someday, that “someone else” will be me – and the auto mechanic won’t be underappreciated.

Mike McClary can be reached at michaelmcclary@yahoo.com. The views expressed are those of the author.