SUN Hockey Pool

Faith, hope 'n' parity

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 6:22 AM ET

Early yesterday morning, amid phone calls from some of the NHL's most powerful people, Ken King was on the line with a fan who insisted the Calgary Flames president speak to his nine-year-old daughter. Oblivious to the business issues that will rob her of a chance to enjoy the game she loves watching with her dad, she got on the phone and made a simple request.

"She said, 'Mr. King, I'm not sure why you have the problems you have but I would sure like it if you would just fix it,' " recalled King yesterday, speaking for the first time since locks were slapped on dressing-room doors around the league.

"That little girl's thoughts ring true for all our fans. I hope she doesn't get too much older before she sees her next game. But I can't predict that."

Everyone's best guess is NHL hockey will return sometime between 12 to 24 months from now. It's already to the point few want to discuss the merits of either side's arguments -- they just want to hear the conflict has been resolved.

Those people, like that little girl, will be waiting a long, long time.

Part of the reason they'll do so stems from an example Flames head coach-GM Darryl Sutter cited yesterday when asked about the events of the previous day. He didn't want to talk about the CBA deadline passing as much as he wanted to point out how silly his afternoon was putting the final touches on a deal with Dion Phaneuf, a fine blueliner with the WHL Red Deer Rebels.

"It tells you all you need to know about the system when it takes 128 days to negotiate a deal for a 19-year-old," said Sutter.

"It's frustrating."

For a kid who has never played a shift in the NHL. That truly does say it all.

"You realize how difficult it is to run a team when the rules are different for everyone," added the small-market GM. "That said, last night I went to bed as a fan -- disappointed."

Although Sutter will be relieved of the burden of hammering out any more contracts for a while (teams can't negotiate with players without a CBA in place), it's hardly surprising to hear he's licking his chops at the possibility of spending more time scouting young talent.

He'll soon start assigning coaches elsewhere to monitor prospects and he'll work all the major junior cities within a day's drive to do the same.

When asked if he, too, is subject to the shortened work week that sees Flames staff reduced to three days a week, the workaholic chuckled.

"I wasn't in on that part of the employee program," laughed Sutter.

"My biggest fear wearing two hats is not seeing the young guys and now I can take full advantage of that."

But first he'll likely assign young forwards Matt Lombardi and Chuck Kobasew to AHL Lowell to get more seasoning -- something he'd probably do with all his troops if he could.

But Sutter said he won't be in contact with his NHLers.

"You know I'd give the shirt off my back for each and every one of those guys," he said. "But this is a labour issue. It's business."

And that's why King will field plenty more calls from people of all ages wondering how our national game can be wiped out in a high-stakes bluffing game.

"We're not trying to convince (fans) to do anything except be patient and that this is necessary," said King, whose club made $12 million last year but now is facing a $5-million loss if the season is scrapped. "I hope the fans will keep the faith."

Not a chance.


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