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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Turkeys facing pressure cooker

Deadline to get a deal done seems days away

Posted: 12/28/2012 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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With turkey now in our past, are turkeys still in our future?

If you're an irritated fan, the short-term answer seems easy when it comes to the NHL and its locked-out players. And there appears to be no change in the long-term danger faced coming out of a break for the Christmas holiday.

The labour dispute is hurtling towards 2013 with little hope for a resolution, but it's becoming more clear each day that some kind of deadline is fast approaching.

The sides have bargained unsuccessfully so far as last season's $3.3 billion in hockey-related revenue continues to shrink by the day.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is on the record saying he can't fathom any regular season -- if there is to be one in the wake of a deal -- being less than the 48 games played after the 1994-95 lockout.

The union has its disclaimer-of-interest card ready to play. Its self-imposed rule after a resounding authorization vote requires action by Jan. 2.

If the NHLPA plays that card, it opens the door to many questions, including:

-- What's the under/over on hours it will take for some players to sue the NHL for anti-trust violations and damages?

-- Would such action be the final nail in the coffin, killing the 2012-13 season?

-- Or, if there is court action, could it still spark a negotiation?

-- If the NHLPA has disclaimed interest, will the players be left to bargain on their own?

Given that the NHL has already been to court to ask for a declaratory judgment that its lockout is legal, the risk of quagmire/lawyer heaven is clearly there.

The timeframe of any 2012-13 season didn't need any more pressure.

Aided

What we know from the past is that in 1994-95, a 48-game campaign began on Jan. 20 and lasted into the first weekend of May. The Stanley Cup playoffs began right away, and aided by swift second, third and final rounds (longest series of five games), were done by June 24.

That was with a 26-team league.

This time around, there are 30 teams and the pressure to squeeze and condense will be even greater.

So what are the options?

Let's start with this; the NHL's season was slated to end April 13.

Because they'll need the time, add two more weeks, so that it still ends on a Saturday (April 27) and you could have a 48-game season in 100 days if the schedule were to commence on Jan. 18.

Build the playoffs then, for four, best-of-seven rounds -- if the league was smart, it would mandate a game every other day and television networks can simply be made to like it in this emergency -- and you could have a start of April 30 and a conclusion by June 24.

That, however, runs over what's scheduled as draft weekend (June 21-22) in New Jersey. It's unknown if there's any elasticity in that date, but you'd expect there would have to be.

It does appear that all that can be squeezed into what will just have to do as a regular season.

For a 100-day, 48-game schedule (basically a game every other day) that would end April 27, you should allot nine days (travel, training camp) from resolution to puck drop, a deal needs to happen by Jan. 9.

How much wiggle room is there on any of that? As you can see, not very much.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 28, 2012 C2

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