Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Meetings are scheduled the next couple of days to ratify the new NHL collective bargaining agreement, and by the end of the week the lockout that forced the cancellation of the 2004-05 season officially should be over.

But what if the members of the NHL Players Association reject the deal?

“Oh, my God, don’t even suggest anything like that,” one NHL source said yesterday. Agreement in principle on the new CBA was reached a week ago today.

About 200 of the 700 members of the NHLPA will gather in Toronto today for a two-day session to have the 600-page document explained in detail, followed by a ratification vote late tomorrow afternoon (members not in attendance will vote electronically). Passage is predicted, though not unanimously.

Barring an unforeseen rejection of the deal by the union, the league’s ruling board of governors will meet in New York City on Friday to give the CBA its stamp of approval and to decide which of several suggested rules changes, some of them radical, it will adopt for the 2005-06 season.

The draft lottery also will be conducted in private during the governors’ meeting, with the prize being 18-year-old Canadian Sidney Crosby, reputed to be the next Wayne Gretzky. The draft itself is scheduled for July30 in Ottawa, though the format is not known.

Whether all of this occurs in time for the Washington Capitals to sign Alexander Ovechkin remains to be seen. The Caps selected Ovechkin, 20, potentially the best European forward ever available to the NHL, first overall in last year’s draft.

He led his Super League team, Moscow Dynamo, to the Russian championship last season, was named the most valuable forward during the world junior championships and also played on the Russian team during the world championships.

But Ovechkin left Dynamo and joined a rival club, Avangard Omsk, which already has begun practice for its season. Ovechkin has an “out” clause in his contract to join the Caps should the NHL labor dispute be resolved, but reportedly there is a deadline today by which the player must commit one way or the other.

The question is whether the deadline can be extended or the player simply can walk away and join the NHL. Because of league-imposed restrictions that came with the lockout, there have been no negotiations between the Caps and Don Meehan, Ovechkin’s Toronto-based agent.

The new CBA caps rookie pay at $850,000 a season for four seasons, with hard-to-achieve incentives available. Playing for Omsk, Ovechkin would make $1.8million, be supplied with a car and a condo and pay no taxes.

Another factor may enter the equation. Following ratification by both sides, there is supposed to be a 10-day cooling off period during which no business of significance can take place while details of the CBA are digested and teams make personnel plans for the season. Whether negotiations of the type involving Ovechkin and the Caps are included in that cooling off period is a mystery.

If the Caps are forced to wait another season before landing their prized prospect, time is on their side. Washington has two years to get Ovechkin under contract before he slips back into the amateur draft.

Meanwhile, should there be no hang-ups, the season is tentatively scheduled to begin Oct.5.

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