SUN Hockey Pool

And so it begins ...

NHL players were officially locked out at midnight last night. (Toronto Sun photo illustration)

NHL players were officially locked out at midnight last night. (Toronto Sun photo illustration)

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

Standing across the street from one of the few remaining porn palaces here in midtown Manhattan, Mike Milbury could not longer contain his disgust. "It's an embarrassing day for everyone," the New York Islanders general manager said.

Mad Mike was not referring to the seedy smut shop.

Milbury's comments were directed at the sickly condition of the NHL, which finds itself in a state of flux this morning.

Minutes earlier, Milbury and representatives of the 29 other NHL teams had gathered at the Westin Times Square hotel and voted unanimously to shut down on-ice operations as of 12:01 a.m. today until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.

Don't expect one in the near future. The most optimistic observers don't think there will be NHL games before mid-January. The league refuses to offer a drop-dead date for the season.

"We have no plans to call the (players') union at this time," NHL legal counsel Bill Daly said. "They know where we are."

Everyone knows where the two sides are, and it's not close.

Claiming the league has absorbed $1.8 billion US in losses during the past 10 years, an animated Gary Bettman accused the union of "stonewalling" in an attempt to have the league soften its stance for a hard salary cap.

"If that is the case, it will turn out to be a badly flawed strategy," the NHL commissioner said.

The union is not about to back down.

"Until he gets off the salary cap issue, there is no chance of getting an agreement," NHL Players' Association head Bob Goodenow said in Toronto.

NHL teams were told by the league that their home arenas can book dates for other events for the next 30 days.

Bettman insisted that 20 teams were in the red last season, but the NHLPA has been skeptical about those numbers.

The New York Daily News, for example, yesterday reported that the Rangers claim to have lost $40 million in 2003-04, a figure the union disputes for a team that owns both its own building (Madison Square Garden) and television network.

But forget, for a moment, the mind-numbing numbers.

The more pressing question is how an extended lockout would affect the future of certain franchises. While Maple Leafs fans almost assuredly will return -- albeit begrudgingly -- whenever NHL arenas reopen their doors, it is non-traditional hockey markets such as Florida and Carolina that very much could be in jeopardy.

"I'm concerned about our franchise in Florida," Panthers alternate governor Bill Torrey said. "Obviously any time we're not playing it's a concern. I'm sure ownership will look at the situation."

On the other hand, Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos became irritated when it was suggested that a long layoff would turn the citizens of Tobacco Road off the sport.

"You people don't have a clue about the Carolina market," Karmanos said. "It's a great hockey market and they proved that when we were in the Stanley Cup final.

"All I know is that it is a disappointing time for hockey fans, players and owners."

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DOES ANYONE HAVE THE KEY?

THE MAIN ISSUE ...

The owners desire "cost certainty" to have a direct connection between revenues and player costs. Owners say 75%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.

LAST NEGOTIATIONS ...

Sept. 9 in Toronto.

NEXT NEGOTIATIONS ...

None scheduled.

SEASON SCHEDULE ...

Training camps were 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.


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