- The Washington Times - Friday, March 25, 2005

Piece by piece, the 2004-05 NHL season has been disassembled by the owners’ lockout. The final part tumbled down yesterday when the league announced the events surrounding the entry draft in Ottawa would not take place.

The draft would have been June 25-26 at Corel Centre in the Canadian capital. There will still be a draft, but it could be done via conference call much like the baseball draft. It is also possible a short version, maybe one or two rounds, might be staged in Ottawa to satisfy television demands, but no date has been announced.

The NHL has stated it would not conduct a draft until a new collective bargaining agreement is in place. The last CBA expired Sept. 15, the day commissioner Gary Bettman issued the lockout decree.

The league put off the cancellation notice as long as it could, but Ottawa’s hotel industry could not continue to hold an estimated 4,500 rooms without a commitment the rooms would be used. It was the same situation Atlanta faced for the All-Star Game. That event, planned for early February, was canceled months earlier.

It is a major blow for hockey fans in Canada, who planned to watch a teenage national hero, forward Sidney Crosby, selected with the first pick overall. The Nova Scotia native widely has been billed as the best player produced by Canada since Mario Lemieux turned pro in 1984.

Who will draft No. 1 is undetermined. The teams that miss the postseason generally draft first, with a weighted lottery helping to determine the draft order.

But the 2004-05 season was canceled by the lockout, so there is no order of finish to determine a drafting order. If the league reverted to the draft order following the 2003-04 season, it would leave Washington with the first pick overall for the second year in a row. That surely would ignite a huge protest, especially among the six Canadian teams.

The Capitals finished 29th in the 30-team league during the 2003-04 season but won the lottery and moved ahead of cellar-dwelling Pittsburgh in the draft order. The Caps picked Russian left wing Alexander Ovechkin, who was generally considered the best prospect from any country since Lemieux and possibly the best forward prospect to come out of Russia.

But the lockout has muddied that picture as well. Bettman’s Sept. 15 directive prohibited teams from conducting any business with players until a new CBA is in place, meaning players cannot be signed or re-signed. Washington defenseman Brendan Witt, for instance, was awarded a larger contract through arbitration, but he will never see a penny of it because the season never happened.

Under the rules of the expired CBA, clubs had two years to sign drafted players or the individuals went back into the draft, eligible to be claimed again. The league privately is telling teams not to worry, that time has stopped as far as signing draftees is concerned, but the language in a new CBA might change that.

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