SUN Hockey Pool

Time for hockey to get busy

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:39 AM ET

Very likely this is the week.

At some point, the National Hockey League and the NHL Players' Association will announce they have reached a deal in principle.

But then what? Does business just pick up where it left off at midnight on Sept. 15? Far from it.

Instead, there probably will be a moratorium on all transactions, not only to give both sides time to ratify the proposal, but also to allow them to come to grips with its terms.

All told, there probably will be a gap of 17-24 days between the time the accord is announced and the time the league is back in unfettered operation.

There are a number of reasons for this. For one thing, the agents, the players and the teams need to determine their respective strategies in light of the terms of the new deal.

The PA still is pressing for a one-year extension of all contracts that were in place for the 2004-05 season. If that condition is indeed part of the CBA, then players who thought they became free agents last Friday will in fact have a year left on their contracts.

And it must not be forgotten that this new CBA likely is to be the most complex in the history of sport. The league's general managers will be summoned to a meeting, probably in New York, where the nuts and bolts of the new deal will be explained to them.

After all, it took many of them about eight years to grasp the complexities of the last one and it was relatively simple.

In all likelihood, the NHLPA will host a similar meeting for agents.

Then, teams must determine their response to the salary cap. Who do they build long-term plans around? Who do they chase? Is there a chance of making a trade in this cap-conscious environment? And who do they buy out?

It seems almost certain the league will stick to its typically short-sighted approach to the buyout provision -- an edict that players who are bought out of their contracts can not return to that team.

The league wants this clause for the usual reason: it doesn't trust its partners. Let's say a team has a $6-million player. It buys him out for $4 million, then gives him a new deal at $2 million. As far as the cap is concerned, he is a $2-million player. But he's still earning the $6 million he earned before the owners' lockout. The NHL is strongly opposed to this kind of cap circumvention.

But in a landscape that requires every bit of goodwill the league can muster, players at this salary level are often local favourites. Shipping them away makes the task of fan enticement that much harder.

The moratorium also gives the GMs time to find out what kind of draft system commissioner Gary Bettman intends to impose upon the league. At their own meeting, the GMs almost came to blows over this contentious issue and finally left it to the commissioner to decide.

Common sense would dictate Bettman would craft a system that is heavily weighted in favour of the teams that missed the 2004 playoffs.

But whatever the case, there will be pressure from all sides to get the draft done at some point prior to the end of the moratorium. After all, if you know you're going to get Sidney Crosby on your team, it's going to affect the way you structure the rest of your roster.

Furthermore, there were more than 150 players drafted in 2003 who have not yet been signed by their NHL teams.

Under normal circumstances, most of them would have gone back into this year's draft. But this time, some structural changes will have to be made so that teams which still want to sign those players can do so.

The word moratorium suggests a dead period. In fact, this moratorium, when it comes, will be one of the most hectic times of the NHL's year.


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