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Storm clouds brewing for hockey

Posted: Thursday, September 3, 2009 | 11:11 AM

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Just when you figure hockey is above it all – it’s time to reconsider.

The recent firing of NHLPA boss Paul Kelly is the latest in a series of signs that suggest what is arguably the greatest professional team sport in the world is headed for hard times once more.

Just think about it.

During Kelly’s tenure of slightly less than two years have we heard much about that ugly phrase, “The Collective Bargaining Agreement?” Have we worried to any great extent about work stoppages or franchise losses in the heartland Canadian cities of the NHL like Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa or Montreal?

The answer is no.

Instead we’ve witnessed the ripening of stars like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin and seen the continued maturing of the NHL where all teams have the prospect of succeeding because they have similar ambitions to have the best players on side.

If hockey goes back to the union hard liners - as the dismissal of the moderate Kelly foreshadows - the game at its highest level will surely return to a dark era where the “big market” clubs have all the clout and the “have-not” cities merely tread water.

Beauty of game overshadowed

Nobody wants this – not while the lost season of 2004-05 is still fresh in most fans recollection.

Hockey has enough to deal with in this day of fragmentation and entertainment abundance. It does not need a renaissance of worker-management “trash talk” that will definitely cause a further distraction from the beauty that occurs on the ice.

At its best, hockey is speed and skill and intense rivalry where you can barely sit in your seat if you’re in the arena or dare to sneak to the bathroom when you’re at home watching on TV.

You dare not miss a thing.

At its worst, hockey is played by lawyers in backrooms far away from the ice bickering about salary caps and entry-level compensation or, horror of horrors, restricted free-agency regulations.

There’s way too much talk about the NHLPA in the news these days. Sadly, that spells stormy weather on hockey’s horizon.

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