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September 16, 2004 - No Hockey League

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No Hockey League
By WAYNE FISH
phillyBurbs.com

VOORHEES, N.J. - NHL commissioner Gary Bettman fired a shot over the union's bow when he said this time would be different, this time the owners won't blink and prematurely end their lockout.

But if he thinks such brave talk will somehow plant a seed of doubt in the minds of the players, perhaps he should think again.

While it's only September and the pain of missed paychecks hasn't started hitting home yet, the players say no one should question their resolve.

That's what makes all this rhetoric sound so scary. Both sides have lots of money and their heels dug in the sand.

Can you say "lost season?''

At the Skate Zone, some Flyers players were packing their gear. Starting today, they won't be welcome at the practice facility. Emotionally, they've been getting ready for this day.

Captain Keith Primeau was asked if he sees a point where the players might begin to crack and make concessions at the bargaining table.

"No, I don't think there is,'' he said.

"We have an extremely strong union. We have an extremely well-funded union. We can wait . . . to get the right deal.''

Tony Amonte sat through the '94 lockout. He understands how grave the situation is but that won't stop him from supporting the players' association.

"This time around, Mr. Bettman wants to get the [salary] cap and we don't feel that's going to happen,'' Amonte said. "That's where we are. They want a cap, we don't want to talk about it. We want to pursue other avenues.

"There's got to be a common ground somewhere, and hopefully we can find it. They've been saying it's going to be a long one all along. We've just got to prepare for the worst.''

Flyers management was instructed by Bettman not to talk about the lockout until after it officially commenced at midnight. President Ron Ryan, who attended the Board of Governors meeting in New York, has scheduled a press conference this afternoon to go over details.

Primeau watched on television with everyone as Bettman made his strong comments in New York. He understands that this isn't 1994 anymore. The owners are more unified and more prepared to shut down the league for "as long as it takes.''

"I think we learned (in '94) that the owners felt that the league gave in at the 11th hour in January,'' Primeau said. "They're adamant this time that they're not going to, so it's only going to hurt the game that much more if the entire season is lost.''

Bettman reiterated in New York that the league is trying to keep the cost of hockey down, keeping it affordable for the average fan.

It's difficult to argue with that logic. Ticket prices continue to rise and player salaries are blamed.

"Any labor dispute usually centers around money,'' Primeau said. "It's unfortunate. We really feel for the fans. Any time you're a player, you're always apologetic, but it's hard to explain to a blue-collar worker who goes out and earns his money every day that million-dollar players and million-dollar owners can't come to some understanding.''

Primeau predicts the players will keep busy. But at some point their passion for the game might be a bigger driving force to return than the money.

Truck Smart

"The older guys at different stages of their careers may try to weather the storm, at least for the first half,'' Primeau said. "At that point, guys will start to get the itch and urge to play.''

Amonte says it will be hard to sit.

"Being a fan myself, it's tough not being able to watch games,'' he said. "I just hope this doesn't cut into our fan base too bad.''

LOCKOUT AT A GLANCE

Key issue: The owners desire "cost certainty" to have a direct connection between revenues and player costs. Owners say 75 percent of revenues are paid out to players, a number the players association disputes; the NHLPA views "cost certainty" to be tantamount to a salary cap. That is a system the union says it will never accept, and one it claims is the only solution the NHL will discuss.

Last negotiations: Sept. 9 in Toronto.

Next negotiations: None scheduled.

Season schedule: Training camps were due to open Sept. 16. Regular season scheduled to start Oct. 13.

Last lockout: The 1994-95 season. It lasted 103 days and cut the regular-season schedule to 48 games per team that were played solely within each conference.

Last proposals: Owners, July 21, presented six concepts for a solution, but the players association said each contained the framework of a salary-cap system and rejected them all; union, Sept. 9, reworked proposal first offered in October 2003 that is based on four points: luxury tax, revenue sharing, a 5 percent rollback on all salaries, and changes to entry-level contracts. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the sides were "not speaking the same language."

LOCKOUT BY THE NUMBERS

2: Times NHL season has been previously interrupted because of labor conflict.

7: Days since NHL and players association met at negotiating table.

8: Work stoppages in baseball - the most among major team sports.

75: percent of team revenues owners say was paid out in player costs.

103: Days without hockey during lockout of 1994-95.

$300 million: Amount in owners' lockout fund (each of the 30 clubs put in $10 million).

464: Games lost during NBA lockout during 1997-98 season, the last sports labor interruption.

$733,000: Average NHL player salary at time of 1994 lockout.

$1,830,126: Average NHL player salary last season.

$224 million: Amount NHL says its clubs lost last season.

$273 million: Amount NHL claims it lost in 2002-03 season.

- From The Associated Press