League must address multiple problems
TAMPA, Fla. -- Finally, after a six-month season and two more months of exhausting and totally unpredictable playoffs, the NHL entered Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals Monday night not knowing what next season holds.
As of Tuesday morning, all 30 teams -- including the champion -- will be firmly united. How long they stay that way may determine what hockey in North America looks like the next time the NHL plays a game that counts.
The other pro sports leagues will be watching with great interest this summer and fall to see whether the NHL, in what would be a first, can negotiate considerable givebacks from its players union during labor talks that threaten the 2004-05 season.
"These negotiations are not just about next season, it is next season and all the ones that follow," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. "It's about the future of our game."
Bettman has all but said training camps won't open if a deal is not in place by the Sept. 15 expiration of the current agreement. Some teams are expected to lay off front-office employees if it appears that negotiations will drag on, as they did when half the 1994-95 season was lost to the NHL's last major labor dispute.
This time, if predictions from both sides are correct, the impasse could be far longer, endangering not only one season but, much like the 1994-95 major league baseball labor strife, the start of another.
"It doesn't look good now, but we hope both sides come to terms and we can have a season next year," said defenseman Brendan Witt of the Washington Capitals. "But I don't think there's going to be a start of the season in October and I hope both sides don't waste a year come January."
January is seen as the deadline for the season being salvageable. If a deal isn't reached by then, it's unlikely training camps could be held and enough games played for a season to be anything but a mockery.
The NHL's problem is, well, that it doesn't have only one problem, beginning with an unbalanced economy in which many teams say they are losing money at the same time players are averaging $1.8 million in salary.
The NHL, much like the fumble-prone running back Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll once spoke of, has many problems and they are great:
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press