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Short sked chilling on ice?

Rinks remain empty as the NHL lockout of its players continues with no end in sight. (Bruce Bennett...

Rinks remain empty as the NHL lockout of its players continues with no end in sight. (Bruce Bennett Studios)

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

The National Hockey League almost surely has a shortened 40-something game schedule in its back pocket, for possible implementation in mid-January of 2005.

That would be near to a drop-dead date for this season, a feeling shared by two NHL executives who were involved with the re-vamped schedule during the 1994-95 lockout.

Just don't expect the NHL brass to talk about the shrinking window the way it did 10 years ago, when the fear of losing that season's revenue, particularly the playoff money, drove some owners to press for labour peace.

The owners have $300 million US put aside this time to ride out the season.

"Looking back at 1994-95, there was always hope there'd be a settlement," said Bill Watters, former assistant general manager of the Maple Leafs. "The (schedule) was in an ongoing state of flux. But in this case, the two sides are not even talking now.

"If they play, I can't see them going with fewer than 40 games this year, not with today's NHL being a 30-team league (compared to 26 clubs in '94-95)."

Randy Sexton, the ex-GM of the Ottawa Senators, said the compression of games into consecutive nights was the big issue as the league struggled with the '94-95 schedule. Fear of injury led to inclusion of a five-day mini training camp.

"We did have to worry about the general rule regarding playing on three consecutive nights," said Sexton, who now works at the Corel Centre office. "But as I recall, it was a good schedule, based on the time we had to work with."

The Leafs, who were then a Western Conference team conducting home games on eastern time, played in eight back-to-back contests that year, plus three games in four nights on 12 occasions and one stretch of 10 games in 16 nights. They finished with a record of 21-19-8.

NHL players collected a prorated 59% of their salary that season, based on the 48-game schedule, down from 84 games and the loss of two neutral site games.

Asked what the league was working on for a shortened schedule this time, NHL vice-president, public relations, Gary Meagher referred to commissioner Gary Bettman's press conference on Sept. 14.

"We're not focused on a timetable," Bettman said that day. "I am not, in a few weeks or a few months, going to say this is the drop-dead date.

"To us, what we're focused on is making the deal. When we ultimately make the deal that has to be made, we'll then see whether or not there's time for a season or some semblance of a season. We'll deal with the next season when it comes along."


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