NHL pulls plug on show

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

Ottawa hockey fans won't get the opportunity to see junior phenom Sidney Crosby walk down the aisle and into the NHL this summer.

NHL sources confirmed a Sportsnet report last night that the league will announce today the cancellation of the entry draft, scheduled for June 25 at the Corel Centre.

The league is also expected to award the 2008 draft to Ottawa.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had no choice but to cancel the draft with talks deadlocked on a new collective bargaining agreement and the prospects of replacement players looking like a strong possibility.

"I'm pretty sure that Sidney will not be surprised by this news. We've all been expecting the draft to be cancelled at some point or another," Pat Brisson, Crosby's Los Angeles-based agent, told the Sun.

"Look, this whole thing has been disappointing since it started. First, the league locked out the players. Then, they cancelled the all-star game. Next up, was the season and now they've decide to cancel the draft. This has all been difficult for everybody involved and no sport has ever been through anything like this."

The Senators were mum on today's expected announcement, although it's believed owner Eugene Melnyk was assured that the club will host the draft down the road.

"It's an NHL property and any statement about that event will have to come from the league," club president Roy Mlakar said in a statement last night.

NHL spokesman Frank Brown could not be reached for comment.

Sources said the league will conduct the 2005 draft via telephone once a CBA is in place. Labour peace, though, remains elusive -- the players are expected to reject a proposal of a $37.5-million US salary cap in the next 24 hours.

TOUGH BLOW

Although expected, the decision to cancel the draft is a huge blow for Ottawa. The Senators have never hosted a major league event and Crosby's coming-out party had created great anticipation among fans. The sensational Rimouski Oceanic centre was certain to be the No. 1 selection.

It was hoped Crosby might have been able to erase some of the bad blood created by the bitter labour dispute which led to the cancellation of the entire season.

Now, with the draft cancelled, Crosby will begin studying his options as he'd prefer not to return to the Oceanic next season.

"Right now, his focus is on what's happening with the (QMJHL's) playoffs and he's not really thinking about the draft," said Brisson.

"We've already started looking at our options and we're going to see what happens before we make a decision. We do have options and we're going to look at all of them (including Europe and the WHA)."


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