The end is near

Will it be

Will it be "A Whole New Game" for the NHL this week? (Photo illustration)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:36 AM ET

TORONTO -- The last time, there was the big press conference in New York with Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow posing for a "Don't blink or you'll miss it" photo-op wearing "Game On" hats.

Will there be another of those this week with Bettman and Goodenow putting on hats with "A Whole New Game" logos?

It's hard to picture. Goodenow might not have a head to put it on.

There's every expectation that the War of 2004 is near the end. It's gone from months to weeks to days, and now there's the belief it's down to hours.

This morning, probably for the last time, negotiators and lawyers will catch their final flight from here to New York before the deal is done, subject to ratification.

FOURTH OF JULY

Just the fact they're going back at it today - the Fourth of July in the U.S. - indicates they plan to get it done this week.

At least one rights-holding TV network has sent e-mails to it's reporters and cameramen to not take any days off this week, not make any plans, in expectation of a flurry of DD-Day (Done Deal Day) media blitzing.

But will there be a big media event in New York? Or will there be a simple statement, subject to ratification, followed by sourced stories and leaked information as owners, management, agents and players look at the new deal?

Will the big media event follow in a week or two with an announcement of the once-in-a-lifetime draft lottery plan, release of the 2005-06 schedule, new rules, and detailed confirmation of all the highlights of a ratified deal?

However it shakes down, the day this deal is done, it's going to be open season in a dozen different directions.

In Canada, there's going to be so much interest in the deal itself, the landscape it leaves, the draft, the strategies of a team like the Edmonton Oilers with the potential to improve the product dramatically, that any damage done during the lockout is likely to be cured.

After a year of depression with no hockey, there will be interest and excitement generated beyond belief in real hockey cities.

In at least a dozen U.S. cities there won't be much, if any. And there's the real rub.

With an expectation of a hard salary cap of significantly less than the $42 million US on the table when Bettman cancelled the season - perhaps as low as $34 to 36 million - and the 24% salary rollback the players offered back in December, GMs and agents are predicting the wildest weeks in the history of hockey, with more than 400 unsigned and bought-out players to deal with.

Reputations of general managers, especially those in position 'A', such as Edmonton's Kevin Lowe, might be made in a month.

SPECULATION STORIES

With an expected transitional phase with a freeze on all dealing until the new collective bargaining agreement is ratified and final decisions and strategies are formed, speculation stories will abound.

The story isn't going to be that the deal is done and that hockey will be back.

For all purposes, that train has already left the station.

Just how much the players have lost for blindly following Goodenow in his gigantic game of chicken with the owners is already hitting home with players who lost an entire season's salary and a significant percentage of annual income.

Those players will be lining up with plenty to say. Goodenow has to be gone.

Will the NHL, which cancelled the draft in Ottawa, put it together again, complete with a lead-in day when the lottery is held publicly to determine draft positions? Can you imagine the interest created?

And what will the new competition committee, featuring only three general managers - Lowe, Bob Gainey and David Poile - as well as players Trevor Linden, Brendan Shanahan, Jarome Iginla and Rob Blake - produce in terms of new rules?

Smaller goalie equipment has already been confirmed due to time requirements for the equipment manufacturers.

Tag-up offsides are almost certain to be included, and the goal-line will be moved a couple feet away from the boards.

Overtime shootouts look like a lock. Adopting the international no-red-line rule is a good bet.

But how much more will be a part of the "A Whole New Game" promise to improve the game when it comes back?

The bottom line is that after a year of hockey going as low as it can go, the story won't be that the game is going to return, but the anticipation of the way the game is going to return.

The anticipation of moving towards the future in places like the Heartland of Hockey will be ballistic.


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