40 games still possible

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:20 AM ET

Ten years ago today, Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow emerged from an all-night collective bargaining session with 'Game On' baseball caps, a new CBA and a season-saving 48-game schedule.

This morning, Bettman is in New York and Goodenow is here, a mere snapshot of how wide the gap is on salvaging any National Hockey League play in 2005.

Yet the league hasn't taken the humane step of putting a bullet in this year's schedule. Either it has kept the door open a crack to placate its legal people with an eye to replacement players in 2005, or it's trying to beat Goodenow at deadline hunting.

In which case, some semblance of a regular season has a faint hope. That would be a two- to-three-month, 30-to-35 game run, going until late April, with May and June saved for playoffs.

Optimistic insiders are floating the notion that a sked of 30-plus games is feasible. The league has steadfastly refused to discuss any condensed schedule to avoid giving the union a drop-dead date to use against them. All Bettman has said on the topic is that the Stanley Cup will not be contested in July.

"You have to have at least half a season (41 games) to make it work," said ex-Maple Leafs' captain Doug Gilmour, who played the lockout year. "You could have a short, playoff-style season I guess, but if you're in a slump out of the hop, then you're out of the race quickly. You want a bit of a training camp, too, so you cut down the risk of injuries."

Broadcaster Bill Watters, who was a Leafs executive in '95 and is familiar with the schedule debate, pegged the minimum at 36 games.

"The integrity of the game and its fans is an important consideration here," Watters said. "Go less than 36 and you're messing with that integrity."

However, don't expect the 16 potential playoff teams to complain about getting into playoffs with as little as 16 wins.

"That would not be as well digested as many people think," Watters predicted. "But I think the possibility of any schedule is nil, not with the two sides not even talking right now."

Any schedule will be harder to implement with today's 30 teams versus 26 in 1994-95. The players might be convinced to play on three consecutive nights, but with the injury risk and travel burden, it would have to be a good sell job.

When the 103-day dispute ended in '95, the Leafs were a Western Conference team with home games on Eastern time. They played eight back-to-back contests that year.

They ended with a record of 21-19-8, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round in seven games. New Jersey Devils won the Cup on June 24.

The players collected a prorated 59% of their salary that season, based on 48 games, down from 84, minus two neutral site games.


Videos

Photos