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NHL ON ICE: ANALYSTS SAY LEAGUE COULD FACE WATERSHED YEAR
Published October 1, 1997
The NHL's 81st season gets underway tonight with ten games on the schedule. In Toronto, Stephen Brunt writes that the NHL season "brings both great opportunity and great danger for the business of the game." The "upside" is the Olympic participation where a Canada-U.S. final, "even if it is played live at dawn, could be the most significant game in the history of the sport. Hockey would really matter, at least for the moment, outside of traditional hockey hotbeds, and a lot of eyes would surely be opened to the sport's possibilities." But the "danger" for the upcoming season lies in NC, where the Hurricanes "are in for a terrible struggle to find a berth in the public imagination." Brunt: "Hockey is going through a period of hyper-inflation. Salaries are going up, but franchise values are going up faster. The league is about to embark on an ambitious expansion that includes one sure thing (Atlanta, irony of ironies) and a bunch of maybes. A little setback down south, and the foundations of the pyramid suddenly get a little shaky" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/1). In Calgary, Mark Miller writes the NHL is "heading into one of its most crucial seasons" and adds, with the Olympics, the game "will finally achieve the profile it's aspired to for so long in the U.S." (EDMONTON SUN/CALGARY SUN, 10/1). MONEY, IT'S A FACT: In N.Y., Joe Lapointe previews the season, noting that "some of the sport's biggest stars are unlikely to be in uniform" for the opener. Currently, up to eight restricted Group 2 free agents, including Mighty Duck Paul Kariya and Red Wing Sergei Fedorov, are unsigned (N.Y. TIMES, 10/1). On ESPN SportsZone, Al Morganti writes "with so many high-profile players still not signed," there are "some very loud suggestions from across NHL management offices that part of the problem" is the NHLPA. NHLPA Exec Dir Bob Goodenow said while the union does act as a "sort of clearinghouse" for information, "I don't and we don't work as a player's agent in the negotiations" (SportsZone, 10/1).