Idea of lost season a disturbing reality

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:28 AM ET

The idea of the NHL shutting down for an entire season doesn't sit well with a couple of former Maple Leafs employees but they realize it's an option that could be a step closer to reality tomorrow.

"I would not be surprised if the NHL comes back and rejects (the NHL Players' Association's offer), only because I think it is such a cat-and-mouse game," ex-winger Mark Osborne said yesterday during a break from providing radio colour commentary of the Mississauga IceDogs-Erie Otters OHL game. "If the owners don't move off the hard (salary) cap, it could be a pretty pessimistic time. Can we really afford to miss (NHL) hockey and shut it down for a year? I hope that's not the case. That would be a shame."

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will put forth a counter-proposal to the NHLPA tomorrow, five days after the union's offer included a glitzy 24% salary rollback proposal. Few believe that Bettman will pull the idea of a salary cap off the table, and if he doesn't, fewer expect the players to stick around to negotiate further.

DAMAGE

There's no telling the damage a lost season could do in some of the NHL's non-traditional markets.

"No hockey is not exactly front-page news in California," said former Leafs coach Tom Watt, who scouts for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. "People there will find other things to do and that's disappointing. If there is no season it's not good for anybody, the players, the teams or the sport."

Still, both Osborne and Watt said they have optimism that a new bargaining agreement can be reached.

If a cancelled season leads to the postponement of the 2005 entry draft, some clubs apparently are considering grounding their scouts so expenses won't be incurred on the road.

Leafs assistant general manager Mike Penny said there are no such plans with Toronto's staff.

"We will continue with business as usual, and that's the plan until we are told otherwise," Penny said. "At some point there will be a draft, and we have to be ready for it."


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