SUN Hockey Pool

Getting the job done

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

Yes, NHL teams are looking at the option of using replacement players for the start of the 2005-06 NHL season, if a collective bargaining agreement with the NHLPA can't be negotiated.

And, no, doing so isn't the first choice of the Edmonton Oilers or any of the league's 30 teams, but it's a possibility that will be on the table and debated - as an option to ensure next season starts on time - when the NHL board of governors convenes in New York tomorrow.

Oilers chairman of the board and governor Cal Nichols said so publicly last Friday, and he reiterated that position yesterday before assembled media at Rexall Place.

"That definitely is an option," Nichols said. "It's one of the last ones I hope we end up having to work around. I think that speaks for every other team. Far and away, our preference is to settle and play as normal. If that doesn't work out, we're definitely going to move forward."

Nichols said Friday the Oilers intend to open the season on time, "One way or another." That should make for some interesting conversation today as representatives of the league and NHLPA meet for the first time since April 4 and tomorrow, when governors gather.

A league source said last week that teams submitted six business plans to the NHL, with four of the plans calling for variations on the use of replacement players. Nichols confirmed that yesterday.

WORST POSITION

"The worst possible position is to not play at all again this year, although that is an option," he said. "Certainly, the best one is to settle and play, but if neither one of those is in the cards, we'll move forward on some form or variation of replacement players.

"We'll see (tomorrow) where every other team sits in terms of their forecasting of the economics of doing that, but if they track what we have determined, this will work better than not playing at all."

Perhaps, but how unified will owners be if a new collective agreement can't be struck and starting up on time means turning talk into action?

"I don't think there's one fracture," Oilers president Patrick LaForge said, talking about the desire to open the doors and get back to business next October. "You gather people around a table on one topic and they will have opinions, no question. But there isn't a doubt in my mind that the league will move as a unit when they fix on to the solution."

Reports out of Toronto have suggested the Maple Leafs, to name just one team, are against the use of replacement players.

"On this issue, despite individual opinions, we, at the end of the day, have to stick together as a league and go with a democracy and the majority," said Nichols. "We'll have to live by that."

PARTICULARLY STICKY

The use of replacements could be particularly sticky in Edmonton, where the Oilers have committed to operating the Road Runners of the AHL for one more season.

What would separate a replacement version of the Oilers from the minor league Road Runners?

"We would address that in a far more formal matter," Nichols said, asked if fans would accept and pay for a watered-down version of the NHL.

"What we'll likely do is invoice out at full NHL prices in the event we could settle and play as normal.

"Then, do a crediting back, maybe somewhere around AHL prices, so the cost of the product is correlating with the price we're charging.

"Our polling, individually and otherwise, indicates that if this is what it takes to get the job done, we should be moving forward to do it."


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