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Hockey

Even a shortened season in jeopardy

By TOM JONES
Published October 10, 2004

There are two schools of thought as to when the NHL lockout will end. Some think the entire season will be lost. Others guess that hockey will return in January.

In order for the NHL to drop the puck at the start of the new year, though, an agreement will have to be reached in the next eight weeks or so, and that doesn't look promising.

Why does an agreement have to be reached that soon? Because whenever the lockout ends, the NHL plans to allow a full month from the time an agreement is reached to the start of the regular season.

The first reason is to have a 30-day training camp. If the season isn't going to start until January that means the NHL will have a shortened schedule, but likely still will force teams to play about every other day. After the last lockout in 1994-95 that wiped out half the season, teams played a 48-game schedule in just over three months. The Lightning played 48 games in 106 days. With that many games in that few days, the league is worried about injuries caused by fatigue and wants the players in the best possible condition to start the season.

Then there's this reason for the 30-day training camp: the league wants to make absolutely sure that the agreement reached is the one that is signed. The league figures it will take a full 30 days to draw up the agreement and sign it.

This is why the league has told teams to release their arenas up to 30 days.

So, do the math. If the league is to start, say, Jan. 2 then an agreement must be reached by Dec. 2. The guess is the league cannot start even a half-season after mid January, so it appears the rough estimation of when an agreement must be reached to salvage this season is mid December, or about two months from now.

Meantime, no negotiations are planned and neither side seems in a hurry. Bill Daly, NHL executive vice president and chief legal officer, and Ted Saskin, senior director of the NHL Players' Association, are scheduled to have a debate Tuesday on Canada's TSN network.

That, though, might be a lot like our presidential debates. Both sides will hammer home their beliefs and criticize the other side. It will be interesting, entertaining and worth watching, but at the end of the debate, nothing will have been decided.

TELLTALE SIGNS: If you're looking for optimistic signs that the lockout could end soon, well, there aren't any. In fact, players continue to flock to other leagues, especially in Europe. Colorado's Alex Tanguay and Montreal's Richard Zednik left just last week for Europe, where there are 194 NHL players playing.

If an agreement was just around the corner, don't you think the NHLPA would advise players to stick around?

FILLING IN: If the lockout ends in time for hockey to be played this season, look for Larry Robinson to go from former coach to current coach of the Devils. Coach Pat Burns was diagnosed with colon cancer in April as the Devils were being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Had the Devils advanced, Robinson, a senior consultant with the Devils, would have taken over the team in the second round.

Robinson also was slated to take over the team if training camp had started on time. The longer the lockout goes, the better chance Burns has of returning behind the bench. It appears Burns' recovery and treatment, however, will take a while.

"I'm pretty sure Pat is not feeling well enough to (coach soon)," Robinson told the New York Post.

THE DEVIL MADE HIM SAY IT: Speaking of the Devils, forward John Madden recently said that maybe the players should consider a salary cap. That stand wasn't exactly popular, as you might imagine, among his union brothers and, especially, one of his former teammates.

Rangers forward Bobby Holik, the former Devil, told the Newark Star-Ledger, "I don't think any players should be commenting on (the lockout). No player should, because it's totally subjective. Every guy is in a different situation, and all the factors that go into that are going to influence what you say. ... I just think we've got to get one spokesperson to communicate with the media. The job of that person will be to articulate the position of the union."

Yeah, every player's situation is different, as Holik points out. For example, Holik is making $9-million a season and might be Exhibit A in the salary problems that are haunting the NHL right now.

HOCKEY SCHOOL: The Lightning will host a third session of its Fall Hockey School on Nov. 6 and 7 at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum. The session is open to boys and girls, ages 7 and 8, of all skill level.

The session consists of four hours of on-ice instruction and is run by Lightning coaches and the team's fan development department.

Participants receive a Hockey School jersey, tickets to a Lightning preseason game and a party on their final day. The registration fee is $110 and the session will be limited to 30 skaters and six goaltenders.

For information or to register, go to www.tampabaylightning.com or call David Cole at 813 301-6822.

[Last modified October 10, 2004, 00:54:25]


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