SUN Hockey Pool

Labour talk is a lock

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 6:58 AM ET

There's one guarantee about the NHL lockout that is hours away from becoming reality: It's a heck of a conversation starter. No one can say for sure how long a lockout would last or what awaits on the other side of it, but that is not holding NHL observers back from discussing what could the longest labour stoppage in the league's history.

"We're not going to have a lockout for the rest of time, but the game is in trouble," CBC analyst Harry Neale said. "Maybe a little blood has to be let (on both sides). I think the players realize they have to take a hit for the good of the game and the owners know it, too.

"The question is where do you draw the line? In some cities, if the lockout goes for any length of time, when it stops, their franchises will be in worse shape than they are now."

Some figure that before negotiations go anywhere, the two sides have to come to a greater knowledge of where the other is coming from in trying to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement.

NOT EVERYBODY CONCURS

"To move ahead in a partnership, you have to understand one another," former Calgary Flames general manager and The Score analyst Craig Button said. "There is no win-lose in this. In getting an agreement, you also have to make sure there is a partnership where you are moving ahead to grow the game. An agreement in the absence of that is no good."

Not everybody concurs that a lengthy lockout will wipe out certain teams. From Florida to Nashville to North Carolina to California, there are concerns that fans simply won't come back if the NHL disappears for months, or even a full season.

But Kelly Hrudey, who played for the Los Angeles Kings from 1989 to 1996 before spending two seasons as a member of the San Jose Sharks, doesn't think hockey will fall off the radar screen in California.

"There are some positives in those markets that people typically bring up," Hrudey, an analyst for the CBC, said. "Youth hockey in Florida and Dallas is coming along. Not a lot of people would think of California as a hockey hotbed, yet it is thriving at the minor hockey league levels. We don't recognize the inroads the game is making at that level."

Despite an NHL career that included 677 games, Hrudey said he did not sympathize with the players.

"It's business and nothing more than that," Hrudey said. "They're just trying to work out an arrangement they're both comfortable with. I'm not rooting for either side."

As for looking back to the situation in 1994-95, when a lockout ended in January 1995 and a 48-game season commenced?

Don't bother.

"That's irrelevant now," TV analyst John Davidson said. "I don't think it's fair to predict the length.

"Both sides believe in what they want to do, and it's polar opposites. I don't know where they go from here."


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