SUN Hockey Pool

Honchos on hot seat

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

Despite the wishes of many hockey fans, it's doubtful Bob Goodenow is on the firing line.

Still, when the NHLPA executive director meets with about 150 of his constituents today in Toronto, rest assured he'll be in the line of fire.

Flames defenceman Andrew Ference won't be at the gathering but said he knows from as far away as the Czech Republic there will be plenty of fellow players wondering what the next step will be in the lockout that has wiped out the

2004-05 season and is now jeopardizing the 2005-06 campaign.

"There's going to be a lot of tough questions asked and there's going to be a lot of tough answers dealt," Ference said yesterday.

Hockey Night in Canada -- a distant memory with the lockout that's now clicked to

Day 166 -- will be replaced by Meeting Week on both sides of the labour divide.

Not only will Goodenow gather with the players, he's also going to hold a discussion with several agents tomorrow.

Meanwhile, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the board of governors, including Flames part-owner and chairman Harley Hotchkiss, have a meeting planned for today in New York.

Wonder which leader will be more under the gun?

According to the league, a lost season actually has saved the 30 teams money, with the collective losses this winter coming in millions of dollars less than the 2003-04 campaign.

Seeing as the owners all have the resources to withstand a lost season -- especially since owning an NHL team is a sideline gig for most of them and a $300-million US war chest is around to help hold them over -- having reached this point doesn't come with much of a financial burden.

(As for their employees, who've been laid off or have had their work weeks slashed, it's another story.)

Ultimately, Bettman will have to instil the belief the final victory is just around the corner.

Meanwhile, the players have forsaken roughly $1.5 billion worth of salary this season alone, another billion or more ready to go away should another season be lost.

Granted, a huge percentage of them have reduced their losses by plying their trade overseas or with minor-league teams. They also have their own lockout fund that can earn them upwards of $10,000 per month.

But it's still easy to see who's losing more in what's become a battle of wills over cost-certainty.

Goodenow has plenty of credit with the players but the time has come for him to prove why he's the man for the job.

He'll have to sell the players on the idea a better deal than the

$42.5-million US hard-cap proposal the NHL brought forth in the waning hours of negotiating to save the season will come down the pipe. He'll have to convince them they now have a bargaining chip with the league's need to solve this mess in time to regain enough sponsors and season-ticket holders as well as hold the entry draft.

He'll have to play on their pride to stay strong and fight to the end.

Will it be easy for Goodenow?

No.

But it's possible, if not probable, and -- sadly -- that doesn't bode well for the future of the NHL.


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