Tucker blames Bettman

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

The Maple Leafs have not had a player go against the union and forward Darcy Tucker doesn't see that changing.

"I don't see cracks, I see pretty solid ground," Tucker said after he and Tie Domi departed yesterday's National Hockey League Players Association meeting. "I'm going to relay that to the group of Leafs I'm in contact with."

But Tucker admitted that it's hard to think of the consequences for a hockey hotbed such as Toronto should both sides in the collective bargaining dispute not compromise before the season crumbles.

"We love the game, we love to be out there in front of the fans, entertaining them," he said. "It's tough when you get into the fall here and the leaves are changing and the guys want to be out there playing.

"But the ball's not in our hands right now. We'd love to be dribbling it, but someone else (NHL commissioner Gary Bettman) has got it and taken it away from us. Until he wants to come back and play on our court, then nothing's going to happen.

"If things don't move forward and we lose the season, that's in Gary's hands. We'll wait and see what Gary has to say about a drop-dead date (likely decided in December). If things don't go forward and the season is shut down, the media should go and talk to him first. He's the guy who hasn't played the game, who doesn't understand the dynamics."

Ex-Leaf Mike Gartner, who was NHLPA president in the last lockout, said yesterday's meeting had the same rallying effect as in 1994 when the missed paycheques and boredom threatened to take a toll on the union. Gartner said a Monday night dinner and yesterday's open forum settled a number of issues and players weren't afraid to step up.

"That's expected when you get 80 or 90 hockey players in a room with a couple of beers," said Gartner, who now handles charity work for the union. "That's the way we wanted it, so they could be comfortable and express any opinions they had.

"There are a lot of parallels between now and 1994. But this time around there are 30 teams (compared to 26). We do have great communication today through the NHLPA website this time, where last time it was all phones and faxes. However, you can't replace face-to-face meetings like this."


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