Sustained by hope

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:14 AM ET

Ken King wouldn't echo Cal Nichols' statements and threaten to fold his club if cost certainty isn't achieved.

He wouldn't utter a 'me, too.'

And he definitely can't speak for the Edmonton Oilers governor.

But the Calgary Flames president admits the club likely wouldn't still be here without the possibility of a new system achieved through this lockout.

"We just spent the last several years working very hard to get to what I believe is the starting point -- not the finishing point but the starting point -- for a new era in which we can operate and make long-term plans," King said.

"Were it not for the prospect for a new era, I think the Calgary Flames would have been gone a long time ago.

"We fought for years to stay in a position that would permit us to get into the new world. We're waiting for it."

With no news from yesterday's talks in Toronto featuring Flames part-owner Harley Hotchkiss and NHLPA president Trevor Linden, the wait continues for King and the hockey world.

On the eve of the last-ditch negotiations held in secret, Nichols spelled more doom and gloom for the club he owns as part of a 36-member group. He said any deal that doesn't provide cost-certainty -- a cap linking salaries to revenues -- could force the owners to suspend operations.

"This isn't sabre-rattling. It's the truth," Nichols said Tuesday. "I have no desire to keep doing what I'm doing and I would recommend that we suspend the franchise and look at our options, or at moving it.

"If we don't get this, we don't exist anymore."

King, who met with Oilers president Pat LaForge yesterday over unrelated issues, wouldn't come out as strongly as Nichols did but stressed the Flames expect and need a favourable deal to assure the team's future in the city.

"The Calgary Flames have and do continue to support the league's position and feel very strongly about that and feel confident that, ultimately, that position will come to pass," King said.

"Obviously, Cal feels strongly about that -- and that's important teams have strong views.

"Calgary's position always has been we support and feel strongly that a new system that has all the necessary characteristics for long-term stability be put in place before we resume competition.

"That system and the process for that is being well handled by the league."

Flames defenceman Robyn Regehr agreed, questioning Nichols' comments and his timing.

"He's a part-owner of the Oilers, isn't he?" Regehr queried, knowing it to be true. "And when did he buy into the Oilers I wonder?"

That was 1998.

"They didn't have a cap when he bought in and he seemed to think it was a good investment, and all of a sudden now he's saying the team would suspend operations unless they get a cap. That seems not quite right to me. How could something change so quickly in a matter of a few years."

The Oilers, buoyed financially by the successful Heritage Classic, made a $2-million Cdn profit last season. However, the team has struggled in recent years, losing players it couldn't afford and requiring a $14-million cash call in 2001.

Regehr questioned Nichols' motives.

"I think Gary Bettman's been marching those guys out there all through his lockout," Regehr said of the NHL commissioner.

"You had Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos in Carolina saying his comments and now Cal Nichols saying comments. You've got guys coming out at strategic times, I believe, trying to swing public favour.

"I think Gary's behind all of that and everything's calculated by the league office."


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