SUN Hockey Pool

Agents ready, if and when

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

If the National Hockey League lockout were to end next week -- that's a big "if" -- the most frantic paper chase in sports history would surely follow.

The NHL Players' Association website lists almost 150 unsigned players of all free-agent stripes, and all would be clamouring for deals left hanging on Sept. 15. Despite the small window prior to the start of a condensed season, the new collective bargaining agreement would have to be signed, then interpreted in crash-course style by agents, general managers and players.

Clubs such as the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers and Washington Capitals have 10 or more listed as unsigned, some of whom weren't expected to return, but leaving the roster cupboard bare nonetheless.

"(Signing so many so fast) would be a tall task for sure," said Bruins assistant GM Jeff Gorton. "Usually you have a three- or four-month period to do that work. The rules will have changed a lot.

"But as time has gone on through this, you plan for a 'what-if' scenario (such as the players' proposed 24% rollback), but I'm sure all teams have an idea of what they have to do when we get back."

New England-based agent Tom Laidlaw has all of his clients under contract, but says the fallout of this CBA will be much more dramatic than in January 1995, when considerably fewer unsigned players and unrestricted free agents were scooped up.

"This will be a scramble of supply and demand," he said. "In '95, the mentality was to get players back and play. Now, you have to think teams will spend more carefully."

Edmonton-based Ritch Winter agreed there would be many new dynamics to the negotiation process, not to mention adapting to them in a short time frame.

"Certainly some players around the league will lower their expectations," he said.

"But you might have some exciting prospects in a new deal. If it reduces the age limit on free agents, then Roman Hamrlik (a year away from being unrestricted at 31 in the old CBA) might be free under a new deal. Teams that are short on defence, such as Toronto and Chicago, could be interested in him.

"I think the stars will be taken care of on every team, but you'll have three or four guys willing to take (low contracts) rather than stay in the minors."


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