SUN Hockey Pool

Turn out the lights

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

Last one out of Edmonton turn out the lights.

Oilers' player reps Steve Staios and Ethan Moreau are gone. Ty Conklin and Marc Andre Bergeron just left.

Seven others have been gone for months and yesterday Georges Laraque made it an even dozen when he struck a deal in the Swedish Elite League.

They don't know when Gary Bettman is going to finally walk into the waiting room and inform the NHL's next of kin that the season is dead - he might be waiting till after the Super Bowl so it's more than Page 7 news in the States - but they know it's coming.

"I'm sure something is going to happen within the week, there has to be some form of closure," said Oilers player rep Eric Brewer.

"He has a major responsibility to keep people informed.

"Players and teams, they need to know, fans obviously need to know ... just cancel it already."

The NHL seems reluctant to make it official, but judging from the players' body language, and their jet streams, the rank and file have been making the announcement themselves: It's over.

"I resigned myself to that a few weeks ago," said Brewer. "It's quite obvious where we're at."

They're nowhere, which is why so many of them are getting out while the getting is good.

It's not like anyone west of Toronto is holding out hope, anyway.

WAIT IT OUT

"We had an idea that the league's plan from the start was just to wait it out as long as they could to see if they could break our association," said defenceman Jason Smith, adding the owners miscalculated if they thought it would happen in five months.

"The offers the league put forth have made us even stronger. The players are committed to the stance we've taken."

So don't hold out hope for next September, either.

"We're only kidding ourselves if we think this is going to be resolved over the summer," said Brewer.

'"If it's not resolved now, it's not going to be resolved until this time next year, if at all.

"Why is it going to be any different in September? I have no optimism whatsoever."

Smith says he'll never give up hope, but thinks Brewer's nightmare scenario is more realistic than a nice, tidy deal by training camp.

"As this season goes by and you get through the summer, I imagine there will be some sort of push to start next year," he said.

HIGH-STAKES POKER

"But if that doesn't happen we could easily be sitting here in January of next year going through the same process."

It's a high-stakes game of poker, to be sure. These are millions of dollars and years in their prime that the players will never get back.

"I think every player in the league is thinking about that," said Smith, 31.

"You're only able to play X number of years pending your health. It shows how strong and committed the players really are."

But by next fall, expect the slow shuffle to Europe to be replaced by a full-scale stampede.

"A year off, in terms of hockey ability, isn't going to hurt us as players. Nobody is going to forget how to play," said Brewer.

"But having said that, next year is going to be a different story - we're going to see a lot of guys signing deals for full years (in Europe) right off the hop."

There is a deal out there to be made, some kind of tax-cap hybrid that can be revisited in a few years, but the two sides can't co-operate enough to make it happen.

So everybody waits until someone is hungry enough to compromise. Nice way to run a league.

"There seems to be this understanding that we're all going to sit back and miss a whole year," said Brewer.

"Why? That's just not good for the game."

It's not. So how does this get fixed?

"I don't know," said Brewer.

"I really have no idea. I guess it'll end at some point when there's enough pressure, which there isn't now."


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