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September 15, 2004 - NHL lockout becomes reality for Flyers

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NHL lockout becomes reality for Flyers
The Associated Press

VOORHEES, N.J. - The lights at Philadelphia's practice rink were dimmed. The locker room was empty soon after. Some bags were packed, some boxes nearby.

Instead of getting ready for training camp, the Flyers were left only with an uncertain future after the National Hockey League decided to lock out its players Thursday, starting a work stoppage that threatens to keep the sport off the ice for the entire 2004-05 season.

"I knew I'd be standing here today and telling you we just hope at some point we can get a resolution and salvage the season," center Keith Primeau said Wednesday after a morning workout of about a dozen NHL and minor league hockey players.

The gap between players and owners was just too large to overcome. There appears to be almost no chance the season will start as scheduled on Oct. 13.

"It kind of stinks, packing up and moving out of here," Flyers right winger Tony Amonte said. "I can't say they weren't preparing us for it."

There's been no movement between the two sides, who haven't spoken since talks broke off last Thursday when the players association made a proposal of a luxury-tax system with revenue sharing, a rollback of salaries, and changes to entry-level contracts.

Commissioner Gary Bettman remains intent on instituting a salary cap, which the players refuse to accept. The few Flyers who attended Wednesday's workout say they're prepared to wait as long as necessary for an acceptable deal, even if it means wiping out the season.

"We know it could go the whole season. We know it could go two seasons and we're ready for that," said left winger Todd Fedoruk. "We're not going to budge on what we want as players and what we feel we deserve. We're just not going to break on that."

Left winger John LeClair said the players understand something has to change, but he thinks it's the owners who have to budge.

"We're not closing our eyes to the financial problems the league has. We made many concessions, but the reality of the situation is, it's not our fault," LeClair said. "We didn't create this problem. The onus is on the owners. That's how they chose to spend their money. They're the ones who put themselves in this situation."

Truck Smart

It is the third stoppage for the NHL and first since a 103-day lockout in 1994-95 that eliminated 468 games, cutting each team's regular-season schedule from 84 games to 48. That lockout ended on Jan. 11, five days before the deadline set by Bettman to end the season.

"One of the best things that came out of the last one was the last (few) games we played were as exciting as any season I've been a part of," said Eric Weinrich, a former Flyer who was traded to St. Louis last year.

If no deal is reached by January, as it was the last time, the season would likely be lost.

"The only lesson I think that was learned was the owners felt they gave in at the 11th hour, meaning January," Primeau said. "They're adamant this time that they're not going to. It's only going to hurt the game that much more if the entire season is lost."

Hockey is already struggling to compete with the other three major sports. The five games of the Stanley Cup finals on ABC last season averaged just a 2.6 rating and the two on ESPN a 1.2 cable rating, according to Nielsen Media Research.

While the hockey fan base is loyal, it is small. Who knows how many will come back when the players do?

"Everybody's going to suffer, starting with the fans," said Eric Desjardins. "Everybody that gets something out hockey games - the players, the owners - nobody wins in that kind of battle."

The lockout comes at a tough time for the Flyers, who went 40-21-15 for 101 points and won the Atlantic Division last year before their remarkable playoff run ended with a loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.

It was the 29th straight season that ended without a championship for the Flyers, but expectations were high this year.

The Flyers practice at a public ice rink so the doors won't really be locked on Thursday. But if they want to use it, they'll have to pay like everyone else. Most though, will likely stay home, spend time with family and wait.

"There's plenty to do in life, not just play hockey," right winger Sami Kapanen said. "It's part of your life, not the whole life."

For now, at least, professional hockey isn't part of it.