SUN Hockey Pool

Hope to save season all but lost

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

Across the hockey world yesterday there was shock, disappointment, anger and only mild hope the season could be saved.

After months of stalled negotiations between the NHL and the NHLPA over the salary-cap issue, the season will officially go down the tubes tomorrow barring successful, last- minute negotiations leading to an agreement.

Although a lot of players were privately calling union executive director Bob Goodenow yesterday to see if he could find a solution, there wasn't much hope the two sides could actually bridge the huge gap.

"I guess you could say I'm going to be keeping a close eye on this for the next 24 hours because we're at the 11th hour," Phoenix defenceman and Ottawa native Sean O'Donnell said last night.

"If this season is going to be cancelled, both sides need to make sure they've gone as far as they can go. You would hope that both sides could find something that would allow them to get something done.

"But I can tell you that we haven't been offered anything so far that I would accept. If the last proposal we received on Feb. 2 is all we're going to get from the NHL, then I'm quite comfortable with the fact we've done everything we can do to try to get a deal done."

Many players believe the end of the season is simply a forgone conclusion.

"(It) is disappointing that the season is going to be cancelled," Senators centre Mike Fisher said last night from Zug, Switzerland. "It's not a surprise because we were kind of expecting it, but it will still be a shock when the day arrives and it's gone. That will be tough.

"I really feel for the fans in all of this. They've been watching this battle between the owners and the players and they're kind of caught in the middle. They just want to watch the games."

Many were still hoping, even in these last few desperate hours, common sense would finally kick in.

"This will really be a shock if this day actually arrives (tomorrow)," said player agent Larry Kelly. "I always expected that rational heads would prevail and both sides would find a way to protect the future of the game.

"I've said all along that the damage to the game caused by the cancellation of the season is going to be absolutely huge. Now, if there's no agreement by July, what's going to happen to revenues of the game. This is going to have serious effect on all revenues. There are a lot of questions that have to be answered."

Or as player agent Allan Walsh put it: "This is like the Cuban missile crisis and both sides have decided to press the nuclear button."

Some players have no idea when they'll lace up their skates again.

"We always had it in the back of our minds that the cancellation of the season could happen, but in the back of your mind you kind of thought that day couldn't be possible," said free-agent defenceman Curtis Leschyshyn.

"Who knows what happens if the season is cancelled. Will we play next year? Is it going to be one year, two years or 18 months? I guess we're about to find out what the future really has in store for us."


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