Don’t Get Your Hopes Up

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Oct. 16) – An optimist would point out that the NHL and NHLPA have broken the 2004-05 lockout pattern by choosing to stay in touch and meet with regularity – in New York or Toronto. A pragmatist would counter that visual contact is not the equivalent of progress. Therefore, we have almost nothing, right now, to hang our hats on as Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr prepare for their latest round of “we won’t budge” here on Tuesday.

“Still way too early – unless the players move significantly off their position” was the email message I received from a league source on Monday, after inquiring whether the latest round of talks might lead to a breakthrough. And therein lies the crux of this labor dispute. Though it seems like an eternity since the owners padlocked the doors on Sep. 15, we aren’t likely beyond even the tiniest steps toward an agreement.

The owners are preparing to hack another swath of games from the regular season and the salary installment players missed on Monday will be nicely offset by escrow compensation. Our only hope is an epiphany from one side or the other – a conciliatory notion that dissolves the stalemate.

GARY BETTMAN, IN NEW YORK ON SEP. 13, TWO DAYS BEFORE THE OWNERS’ LOCKOUT. MORE THAN ONE MONTH LATER, THE NHL AND ITS PLAYERS REMAIN AT ODDS.

As it stands, there is no longer any plausible expectation for a full, 82-game schedule. Only an immediate resolution would allow for the entire slate of 1,230 regular-season matches. It therefore becomes inconsequential as to what further portion of the playing calendar is deleted by week’s end. Of much greater significance is the time-frame the owners have established in order to conduct an abbreviated schedule. And, I’m told the interval is substantially narrower than it was eight years ago.

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I was gabbing about the lockout and other issues on Monday with a veteran amateur scout when the topic of  Morgan Rielly came up.

“Toronto has a real gem in that kid – I’ve watched him a ton in Moose Jaw,” said the scout in reference to the Maple Leafs’ first-round draft choice this summer. “If he is able to stay healthy – and that’s been a bit tricky for him – I think he has a chance to be the Leafs’ best defenseman since Borje Salming.

“He really is that good a prospect.”

When factoring the Leafs of the post-expansion era, such words could be considered faint praise, given the club has had only one All-Star defenseman since Salming (Bryan McCabe was named to the second NHL team in 2003-04) and only three in total since 1980 (Mats Sundin was twice selected). But, the analogy, though obviously premature, is enchanting.

        

IN MIKE LEONETTI’S 2007 BOOK, A PANEL OF WRITERS AND BROADCASTERS SELECTED BORJE SALMING – PICTURED ABOVE WITH PHILADELPHIA’S DON SALESKI – THE 10th-BEST LEAF OF ALL TIME, BEHIND DAVE KEON, TED KENNEDY, SYL APPS, FRANK MAHOVLICH, DARRYL SITTLER, CHARLIE CONACHER, JOHNNY BOWER, TIM HORTON AND TURK BRODA.

In an era that included such Hall of Fame blue-liners as Bobby Orr, Brad Park, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe and Denis Potvin, Salming was named an NHL All-Star in six consecutive seasons (1974-75 to 1979-80). He and Robinson were selected to the first All-Star team in 1976-77.

Nearly a quarter-century after playing his final game in a Toronto jersey, Salming remains fourth on the all-time club scoring list with 768 career points – behind only Sundin, Darryl Sittler and Dave Keon. He holds the team record of 620 assists and he topped 70 points in four consecutive seasons.

In that context, the mere mention is flattering.

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