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Here goes the NHL again

As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like dejà vu all over again!”

It was 10 years ago that the San Jose Sharks were coming off of their best season ever. As an eighth seed, they had dispatched the Stanley Cup favorite Detroit Red Wings in seven heart-stopping games.

Before being eliminated, the Sharks took the Toronto Maple Leafs to a Game 7 in the old Maple Leafs Gardens before finally succumbing.



The future was never brighter.

This was a team on the rise.




Then came the lockout of 1994. The Sharks never regained their stride. There was no return to glory. The nucleus of that team was sent packing. The stage was set for several years of “rebuilding.”

Fast forward a decade and the scenario seems all-too-familiar.

In 2004, the Sharks again are coming off of their very best season. After falling ever-so-short of playing for Lord Stanley’s Cup following a grueling six game series against the Calgary Flames, the Sharks again appear on the brink of great things. The collection of impact players not only remain in tact, they appear poised for a genuine run at the Stanley Cup.

There is reason for great promise.

However, before you allow your enthusiasm to reach a feverish pitch, be reminded the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement expires in just slightly more than one month on Sept. 15. After a lockout shortened the 1995 season to a mere four months, there has been two extensions of the deal signed that year.

This time, there is reason for deep concern.

In late July, the players union and the NHL met for the first time in two months. Not only was there minimal progress, the next meeting was not set until early August. Both sides voiced little optimism and seem ready for a long standoff. Indeed, the opening of the regular season seems doubtful. The entire 2004-05 campaign is in serious jeopardy.

At the heart of the issue is a salary cap. The players were successful in avoiding it in 1994. However, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman now says it is necessary for “cost certainty” for the owners. The players have requested records to review the financial conditions of the teams.

The owners have sent out pink slips to their employees, effective right after the expiration of the CBA. The NHL has given half its league employees termination notices that would go into effect Sept. 20.

Those employees left standing were told to watch for pay reductions. Players are bracing for a extended period without a pay check.

Indeed, this appears more serious than the 1994 lockout. Both sides are prepared to stand their ground. The little details can be worked out. The salary cap is “the” stumbling block. Neither side is budging despite the league proposing six possible solutions, all with salary caps.

Who are the losers here?

As in the past, it is the fans, players, owners, and the sport … probably in that order. Although the patrons will undoubtedly return at some point in time, the damage done from a work stoppage is not easily repaired. The ill-winds are not easily cured. Even the staunchest fans become disenchanted. Those involved are prepared for the absence of a 2004-05 season.

A sport already struggling to gain recognition in the States is most assuredly swimming into its most dangerous waters of the past half-century. For the Northern California fan comes the realization that a season with great promise could very well evaporate into frustration and what-could-have-been.

The post season triumphs against St. Louis and Colorado combined with the near-conquest of Calgary have quickly become overshadowed by a labor problem going nowhere fast.

If significant progress is not achieved very shortly, a long winter could become even more chilly … for all involved. The next six weeks will spell the fate of a season most definitely on the brink.

ooo

Jim Adams is a resident of Nevada City.


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