It is coming back, the NHL, but in what kind of shape?
- The end is near
Signs point to NHL resolution
By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun
# Build a team in five weeks
Will it be "A Whole New Game" for the NHL this week? (Photo illustration)
TORONTO -- The last time, there was the big press conference in New York
with Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow posing for a "Don't blink or you'll
miss it" photo-op wearing "Game On" hats.
Will there be another of those this week with Bettman and Goodenow
putting on hats with "A Whole New Game" logos?
It's hard to picture. Goodenow might not have a head to put it on.
There's every expectation that the War of 2004 is near the end. It's
gone from months to weeks to days, and now there's the belief it's down
This morning, probably for the last time, negotiators and lawyers will
catch their final flight from here to New York before the deal is done,
subject to ratification.
FOURTH OF JULY
Just the fact they're going back at it today - the Fourth of July in the
U.S. - indicates they plan to get it done this week.
At least one rights-holding TV network has sent e-mails to it's
reporters and cameramen to not take any days off this week, not make any
plans, in expectation of a flurry of DD-Day (Done Deal Day) media blitzing.
But will there be a big media event in New York? Or will there be a
simple statement, subject to ratification, followed by sourced stories
and leaked information as owners, management, agents and players look at
the new deal?
Will the big media event follow in a week or two with an announcement of
the once-in-a-lifetime draft lottery plan, release of the 2005-06
schedule, new rules, and detailed confirmation of all the highlights of
a ratified deal?
However it shakes down, the day this deal is done, it's going to be open
season in a dozen different directions.
In Canada, there's going to be so much interest in the deal itself, the
landscape it leaves, the draft, the strategies of a team like the
Edmonton Oilers with the potential to improve the product dramatically,
that any damage done during the lockout is likely to be cured.
After a year of depression with no hockey, there will be interest and
excitement generated beyond belief in real hockey cities.
In at least a dozen U.S. cities there won't be much, if any. And there's
the real rub.
With an expectation of a hard salary cap of significantly less than the
$42 million US on the table when Bettman cancelled the season - perhaps
as low as $34 to 36 million - and the 24% salary rollback the players
offered back in December, GMs and agents are predicting the wildest
weeks in the history of hockey, with more than 400 unsigned and
bought-out players to deal with.
Reputations of general managers, especially those in position 'A', such
as Edmonton's Kevin Lowe, might be made in a month.
With an expected transitional phase with a freeze on all dealing until
the new collective bargaining agreement is ratified and final decisions
and strategies are formed, speculation stories will abound.
The story isn't going to be that the deal is done and that hockey will
For all purposes, that train has already left the station.
Just how much the players have lost for blindly following Goodenow in
his gigantic game of chicken with the owners is already hitting home
with players who lost an entire season's salary and a significant
percentage of annual income.
Those players will be lining up with plenty to say. Goodenow has to be gone.
Will the NHL, which cancelled the draft in Ottawa, put it together
again, complete with a lead-in day when the lottery is held publicly to
determine draft positions? Can you imagine the interest created?
And what will the new competition committee, featuring only three
general managers - Lowe, Bob Gainey and David Poile - as well as players
Trevor Linden, Brendan Shanahan, Jarome Iginla and Rob Blake - produce
in terms of new rules?
Smaller goalie equipment has already been confirmed due to time
requirements for the equipment manufacturers.
Tag-up offsides are almost certain to be included, and the goal-line
will be moved a couple feet away from the boards.
Overtime shootouts look like a lock. Adopting the international
no-red-line rule is a good bet.
But how much more will be a part of the "A Whole New Game" promise to
improve the game when it comes back?
The bottom line is that after a year of hockey going as low as it can
go, the story won't be that the game is going to return, but the
anticipation of the way the game is going to return.
The anticipation of moving towards the future in places like the
Heartland of Hockey will be ballistic.