What might happen next?

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

If the National Hockey League season is cancelled today, several serious questions would be raised. Not all can be answered until the dust clears, but here's a sampling:

- What is the earliest could hockey start again?

That depends on when meaningful talks occur, but expect both sides to retreat short-term and count their losses. There's no guarantee a new deal can be worked out by the normal start of the 2005-06 season.

- Will there be replacement players in September?

The league would like it, but it's easier said than done. The league must prove bargaining impasse to impose its own CBA with a hard cap on replacements or defecting union members. But the NHLPA can challenge the National Labor Relations Board in the U.S. That could tie the game up in court for months, even before considering the different interpretations of replacement labour law in the NHL's four Canadian provinces.

- What will happen to the entry draft?

Without a CBA, the 2005 draft class is in limbo, while 2004 picks who didn't sign before the lockout could be put back in the pool. If next year's draft is threatened too, the '06 class could be in a full draft encompassing 18- and 19-year-olds.

- Could Sidney Crosby take advantage of the draft uncertainty and sign with any NHL team?

His International Management Group team is looking into it and clubs such as the Maple Leafs have likely done their legal homework in that regard.

- What would happen to season-ticket money?

In the case of almost 18,000 Leafs seats, money has been refunded each month.

- What would happen to networks who own broadcasting rights?

No money was paid to the league at the start of the lockout. In the case of the CBC, which was entering the third of a five-year deal, next season becomes the third year if hockey resumes in 2005.

- What could be the futures of Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow?

If the lost season scenario unfolds, it doesn't mean the respective leaders of the owners and players will retain their power. Because the players didn't cave as Bettman hoped, the owners can overrule him (as opposed to firing him) and attempt cost certainty in other ways. The players are still indebted to Goodenow for "winning" the 1994 lockout, but his support will sag if they're still out of work in the autumn.

- Where could unemployed NHLers go next autumn?

Europe will again become home to hundreds as those who stayed home this year join the flood. Better organized rival North American leagues, including a serious World Hockey Association, are possibilities.

- Will the Stanley Cup be awarded?

Unless there is total dissolution of the NHL, the Cup's trustees will not give it to another team or league. Presumably, the Tampa Bay Lightning would continue to hold the title of Cup champions, as the Blue Jays did in the baseball labour dispute of 1994.


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