SUN Hockey Pool

Vote will be career-killer

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

The victims will vote today to ratify an agreement that essentially will end their NHL playing careers.

The real victims of the lockout. They don't even know who they are yet. We don't know who they are, either. But when this financial game of musical chairs has played itself out, they will be the players left without seats. Without jobs. Without an NHL paycheque, or a NHL future.

They sat out a year. Fought the good fight. Believed in the nonsense Bully Bob Goodenow was peddling. And all it cost them was a year of salary they didn't see and will never see again.

The doors are about to close on about 100 players -- give or take five or 10 -- who will not return from the 2003-04 season. One of almost every seven association members won't be back. They paid their dues. They put in their time. And soon there will be no place for them.

Nobody sold them on that. The same way nobody told the players they were giving back 24% of their salaries as a starting point of the brave new NHL world. These players won't get a chance to cut their salaries back 24%.

Twenty-four percent of zero remains at zero.

Know this much: In the new salary-capped NHL environment, the bottom of every team roster will be taken up by minimum-wage players. Some have speculated that most teams will add at least three and maybe four AHL players to their rosters for the coming season.

That's 90-120 new players and 90-120 jobs lost in the ego warfare of Goodenow versus Bettman.

Remind them again that this was worth fighting for.

The question is: Who will the players be? Who won't be offered contracts? Who will end up having no place to go?

The buyout season begins on Saturday. Free agency begins on Aug. 1. A month of frenzy will soon be upon us. And the music is about to play taps for too many careers lost.

"It's always been like this, only this might be worse," said Anton Thun, the player agent who represents Glen Murray and Mike Ricci, among others. "Most players don't retire because they choose to retire. That happens in the imaginary world. Players decide to retire. It doesn't happen in reality.

"Some people won't have jobs when this is over. That's the way it is after every season of hockey. Only, because of circumstances, this seems worse."

That is just one of the many unknowns when the puck is officially dropped on the off-season flea market of players. For those in the business -- the general managers, players, and agents -- the level of trepidation is at an all-time high.

Never mind that there is the digesting of the Collective Bargaining Agreement still to be done: There is an entire new market to develop, and nobody seems to have a handle on what that market will be.

Will teams be aggressive or play the waiting game? Will players be desperate to get their names on contracts? Will players go against the very fabric Goodenow relied upon -- holding out until the last minute for the final offer -- and now distrust whatever advice he presents their way.

We used to have a sense of what it cost to buy a reasonable NHL defenceman or a winger who can score or an old goaltender with a back problem. Give or take a Bobby Holik or Marty Lapointe, and most signings could be pencilled in quite easily.

Now the letters TBD will be beside every free agent's name instead of a price: To be determined.

The vote for some players today will be the last time they are asked to vote. Not knowing where their futures may be. Not knowing what the market will bear.

Not knowing if they are among the hundred or so who are about to call themselves former NHL players.


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