Replacement players iced

LANCE HORNBY and MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:09 AM ET

There will be no Toronto Make Believes in October, and that goes for the whole National Hockey League replacement player concept.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman emerged from a four-hour board of governors meeting in New York yesterday to say he will not start the 2005-06 season on time unless there is a signed collective bargaining agreement with the players.

That doesn't mean a settlement of the seven-month lockout is imminent, but at least the league is backing off fighting the union in court all summer on the complicated replacement player issue.

"I don't think the idea would have worked," relieved Leafs defenceman Ken Klee said from his home in Colorado.

"The NHL is the greatest league in the world and fans and sponsors would have seen right through it. Perhaps it was all just part of their bargaining strategy with the players."

Leafs general manager John Ferguson Jr. also was not overly enamoured at the thought of using replacement players.

"It was hypothetical, and is appropriately not the goal and the focus," Ferguson said. "The energies are being expended in an attempt to reach an agreement in the near-term and that in itself remains a worthy goal."

Despite a breakdown in the most recent CBA session on Tuesday, it seems the board has not dismissed an April 4 union proposal to create an upper limit on payrolls as well as a base, linked annually to league revenues.

Dallas Stars president Jim Lites told the Canadian Press that "the feeling in the room was that we're getting closer to a deal with the players. They're inching toward a settlement.

"We're on the same page finally."

Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford added to the optimism, saying the union's plan could fly "if you work the numbers right."

The removal of the replacement cloud means NHLers won't have to fret about crossing picket lines. And while some lower echelon NHLers and minor leaguers said they were ready to defy the union for the chance to fill a big-league sweater, others didn't relish getting black-balled by the regulars once the lockout ended.

"People are trying to take our jobs every day (through regular competition)," Klee said. "But as far as guys crossing the line, could you live with yourself? Could you look in the mirror and say 'I was a stand-up player on the ice, yet when the union stood together, I crossed the line for personal gain?' "

A decision on what to do about the NHL entry draft was deferred, even though it was a hot topic at the GMs meeting in Detroit earlier this month.

If a CBA is reached, a draft order still must be hammered out and there are 25 teams who want the same shot at picking Sidney Crosby No. 1 as the five bottom non-playoff clubs would have had under the old lottery system.


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