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All the lockout woes at play in ring fiasco
By TOM JONES
Published November 21, 2004
It should have been one of the best days in franchise history, but it turned into a surreal event that left everyone unhappy.
Last week the Lightning passed out its championship rings, but because of the NHL lockout it was a cloak-and-dagger scene with the players tucked away in a basement room at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, sifting through a box to find their rings.
The big cheeses with the Lightning were irritated they couldn't honor their players in a public and dignified way. The NHL was annoyed the Lightning organization was doing anything at all for the players in the midst of an ugly labor dispute. The players, particularly union representative Tim Taylor, were bothered the NHL tried to squash the ceremony, quiet as it was, and that they couldn't celebrate with the fans in a public forum.
So who is to blame for this mess? Everyone. There is plenty to go around for making this day disappointing.
First, what was the rush for the Lightning to pass out the rings? Why not wait until the lockout is over? Or at least wait to see if the season is canceled? Yes, the rings were ready and it would only have been right for the players to get their rings at the same time the executives did. It wouldn't be right for some guy in the ticket sales office to have a ring on his finger and Vinny Lecavalier not.
Still, why now? Why not wait six or eight weeks? By then the season will either start or be called off.
On the other hand, the NHL needs to lighten up. This is a sports labor dispute, not war. How in the world is the NHL being compromised in a labor dispute just because there is a ceremony for a team to celebrate winning a championship? The NHL doesn't want owners to have contact with players, and that in itself is absurd. That's why they're in the mess they are in - owners and players aren't talking.
So what if Lightning owner Bill Davidson has a conversation with Taylor? As the lockout reaches its third month, wouldn't it actually be a good idea for owners and players to talk?
By filling the Times Forum and announcing the names of players and having team president Ron Campbell shake the hand of, say, Brad Richards as he hands him a ring, the Lightning is not altering the dynamics of negotiations.
Finally, this would have been a positive hockey story at a time when the NHL is starving for positive publicity.
Instead, the Lightning and the NHL turned it into another bitter moment in what might turn out to be the lowest point in the history of the sport.
A COLD DRAFT: If the season is canceled, how will the NHL determine the order for the June draft? It's an interesting question, because the top pick is expected to be Sidney Crosby, considered a franchise player and one of the best prospects ever. Would the league keep the same draft order as last year? Would it hold another lottery for the worst teams from last season? Would the order be picked out of a hat?
The answer: none of the above. The draft can't be held without a collective bargaining agreement.
So all the players eligible for the draft, including Crosby, would have to wait until the lockout ended. Because that possibility is so far away, the league has not said how it would determine the order.
SHORT CAMPING TRIP: The league has been canceling games 45 days in advance, meaning if the season were going to be saved and had to start in mid January, a collective bargaining agreement must be reached by early December.
That might not be the case. The feeling is a half-season could start a week or so after an agreement is reached. That puts the real deadline of reaching a CBA into January. But that would mean it would be like the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, when training camps lasted a week.
If that's the case, Lightning coach John Tortorella said players better be in condition.
"A week is not a long time to get ready," Tortorella said last week. "And when you have a shortened season, you can't afford to get off a slow start. You start slow and you might be out of it for good."
A short training camp might hurt the Lightning. Tortorella runs one of the best camps in hockey, and it has showed. The Lightning won its first six games last season on its way to a 7-0-1 start. The season before the Lightning started 7-1-2.