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September 16, 2004 - NHL owners lock out players

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NHL owners lock out players
Entire 2004-05 season may be wiped out

By CHUCK GORMLEY
Special to The News Journal
09/16/2004

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Eric Desjardins, Keith Primeau, John LeClair and Tony Amonte said they'll spend quality time with their families.

Joni Pitkanen, Patrick Sharp and Dennis Seidenberg will spend quality time - at a quality price - playing for the Philadelphia Phantoms.

With the National Hockey League now in official lockdown mode - their collective bargaining agreement expired at midnight on Wednesday - the world's best hockey players now find themselves with nothing to do.

Stating that 20 of the NHL's 30 teams lost a total of $340 million last season, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league will remain suspended until the players union accepts some form of cost certainty that would cut the average player salary from $1.8 million to $1.3 million.

"The union is trying to win a fight, hoping the owners will give up," Bettman said. "That will turn out to be a terrible error in judgment."

According to Bettman, the players union, headed by Bob Goodenow, flatly rejected six different proposals by the league's owners, equating their models of revenue sharing to a form of salary cap.

"We have to get to the point where the owners are willing to negotiate and not try to force a $31 million salary cap down our throats," said Primeau, who is scheduled to make $4.5 million in 2004-05.

Flyers chairman Ed Snider said the players are being misinformed and that revenue sharing is not the same as a salary cap.

"We're willing to guarantee a percentage of all revenues," Snider said. "That way, if the league is prospering, the players are prospering."

Bettman reconfirmed that 75 percent of the league's revenue goes toward player salaries and that he's offered the union a revenue-sharing plan in which the players would receive 53 percent of team revenues.

The effect a long work stoppage will have on the NHL's declining fan base remains to be seen.

Primeau said that if the entire season is lost, recovering fans will be a difficult task.

"For a sport trying to gain notoriety and respect, this is definitely a way to put it back on its heels," he said.

For players such as Pitkanen, Sharp and Seidenberg, the NHL lockout affects their pay, but not their ability to work. Because they are within the first three years of their contracts, they are eligible to play in the American Hockey League.

But for the veterans, preparations have been made for a very long layoff.

"It kinda stinks," Amonte said, "packing up and moving out of here, trying to find a new place to work out and keep in shape. But we can't say they haven't prepared us. We're prepared for the worst."