Player agents and hockey fans usually have as much in common as cats and dogs.
But with the National Hockey League season slipping away and no player-owner talks scheduled, an agents meeting Nov. 17 in Chicago has become a straw for fans to grasp. NHL Players' Association executive director Bob Goodenow invited the agents to give an update and to air their concerns as their income disappears along with their clients' salaries.
There will be inevitable hopes the gathering will be a force for change, though high-profile agents such as Ritch Winter and Rick Curran doubt it.
"We just have to keep faith in the people driving the bus and hope they lead us back to the hockey rink," Winter said yesterday from his office in Edmonton. "I remember 10 years ago, some agents doubted the direction Bob was taking us. But history has proven them wrong.
"I don't believe Bob has invited us for any other reason than to enjoy the visit and hear what he has to say," Winter said. "Anything else would be pure speculation."
Curran, who represents Maple Leafs Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk, said it would be "naive" to think the agents will spring a radical idea on Goodenow that hadn't been explored previously.
"On the other hand, I think that he may find it an interesting exercise for himself to hear from us what our clients feel," Curran told the Canadian Press from Philadelphia. "Our clients may be more forthcoming with their thoughts through us than necessarily directly to him.
"I'd like to think that he's too smart to ignore some of the feedback that he may get. But in the end, it's his game plan, it's his ball and he has got to carry it."
Calgary-based agent Art Breeze said Goodenow need not worry about an agents revolt.
"As long as he's in the executive chair, he has the complete and total support of his constituents," Breeze said. "Any agent who disagrees with the significant communication he has provided us should clearly look in the mirror."
Canadian Press reported last night that another player meeting is in the works for next month, likely involving 200 rank-and-file players and taking place around the time a drop-dead date for the season is expected.
"I think agents can be a major influence on the outcome of this," Darren Ferris of the Orr Hockey Group said from his Brampton office. "But I don't think any agent is ready to accept a salary cap."