It's do or die for NHL

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

If the NHL season was a best-of-seven series, it would be down three games to none and facing elimination.

With the turn of the calendar to December, the countdown toward the official cancellation of the season of 2004-05 season by commissioner Gary Bettman is looking more and more likely.

And with no talks scheduled between the NHL and its locked-out players -- the two sides haven't spoken since Sept. 9 -- it would appear nothing short of a miracle can save the season now.

NO NHL BEFORE JAN. 15

The NHL has told teams they can book their buildings 45 days in advance, which means games up until Jan. 15 have been scrapped.

There has speculation in NHL circles that Bettman will cancel the season on Dec. 15.

"I don't think that there's any magic to any particular date, but there certainly has to be a concern when you look 45 days ahead and the date is Jan. 15," said Senators president Roy Mlakar.

"I'm an optimist by nature, but with the lack of understanding by the (NHL Players' Association), it has to be a grave concern."

So while the league hasn't announced a drop-dead date to force a new deal, or at least a new round of bargaining, NHL chief negotiator Bill Daly has made it clear there will be no training camp until every 'i' is dotted and every 't' is crossed.

Bettman, meanwhile, will give an update to most of the NHL's 30 GMs during a meeting tomorrow in New York.

"I'm like everybody else, I still hope there's going to be a season because I want to be playing hockey, but I understand that we've got a system that needs to be fixed," Senators GM John Muckler said yesterday from his Buffalo home.

"You hope that something can get done to save the season, but I don't how that's going to be done. I think every GM who is going to that meeting knows that the system has to be fixed for the good of the game."

NOT 'OPTIMISTIC'

There has been talk the players will present another proposal to the league to try and save the season, but NHLPA officials have maintained they've got nothing in the works and the owners claim they've got nothing new either.

"To say right now that we're optimistic would be a stretch," said Senators defenceman Curtis Leschyshyn. "It's my belief that as a union we've made concessions and the owners haven't shown a willingness to negotiate.

"If we keep making concessions, then we're going to hit a point where we're negotiating against ourselves. We can't keep giving back. We've tried to negotiate and we haven't gotten anything we can work with in return. We know there's a distinct possibility the season could be cancelled."


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