SUN Hockey Pool

Goodenow loses trump card

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

The landscape in the NHL's labour dispute changed dramatically yesterday, with Bob Goodenow possibly losing his ace in the hole.

As much as the head of the NHL Players' Association had termed the use of replacement players a recipe for disaster, sources say Goodenow would have loved to have seen the league's governors decide to go that route.

Instead, after doing a lot of homework and soul-searching in the last couple of months, commissioner Gary Bettman declared after a meeting with the owners at a New York hotel yesterday that their priority is to get a deal done with the NHLPA.

Bettman might have merely been extending an olive branch to the union to get a CBA in place before another season is disrupted. But Goodenow was probably sitting in his Toronto office disappointed with the news.

BLOW TO UNION

"That's a huge blow to the union's stance," said a league source last night. "I really believe that Goodenow felt if the league decided to use replacements, it would have been devastating for (NHL) revenues.

"How could you possibly sell season tickets and advertising to people using replacement players? It just wasn't going to work. The union would have loved to have seen it because I firmly believe that using replacements would have had the league knocking on the doors of the real players to get a deal done."

Unfortunately, the news also means there are no guarantees next season will start on time, either. Given the current state of negotiations, there isn't any reason to believe a new CBA will be in place in time for camps to open in September.

A month ago, Bettman sent all 30 owners back to their respective teams to mull over several different scenarios -- including one which would have seen the league play a shortened schedule with replacements.

Sources say several teams were willing to go with replacements, but not with great enthusiasm. One of the biggest opponents to the concept is believed to be the Toronto Maple Leafs, who know their fans simply won't buy it.

The Leafs aren't alone. Phoenix owner Wayne Gretzky can't sell tickets to see the talent he's assembled in the desert. Can you imagine what the stands at the Glendale Arena would look like with a bunch of no names on the ice?

But such opposition isn't the only reason to ditch the idea. The bottom line is the road to using replacements is long and arduous. A hearing to declare impasse with the National Labour Relations Board could take months.

Bettman told reporters he was going to call Goodenow in the near future to begin setting up a schedule of meetings to get a deal done. He added the season wouldn't start on time if there wasn't a new CBA in place.

The question is: Can these two sides find any common ground to get something in place? They've basically been negotiating for two years and haven't made any substantial progress with the exception of the players being willing to accept some form of salary cap.

No wonder yesterday's development was met with skepticism.

'NOT JUST RHETORIC'

"It's encouraging because the commissioner is willing to take a different approach in this process," agent J.P. Barry, co-managing director of IMG Hockey, said from Calgary. "Hopefully, though, this is not just rhetoric and he's going to show real flexibility that the players have shown through this process because that's what is needed here to get a deal done."

The good news is fans won't be asked to buy tickets to watch Larry, Curly or Moe perform at the Corel Centre next season. The bad news is nobody is sure when Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk will take the padlocks off the doors and turn on the lights again.

I know exactly what you're saying.

"Call me when it's over."


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