Bryan Trottier of the New York Islanders, president of the National Hockey League Players Assn. (NHLPA), is predicting that the players will strike when the collective bargaining agreement expires next Sept. 15.
"I don't think anything is going to happen without a strike," Trottier said. "But we as an organization don't want a strike."
The big issue is free agency. Free agency is a joke under the current agreement, which was signed in 1982.
Consider the case of Edmonton defenseman Paul Coffey, who is perhaps the best defenseman in the NHL. He became a free agent after last season but re-signed with the Oilers this season because he received no other offers.
Why not? No team was willing to compensate the Oilers with a No. 1 draft pick or players.
Compensation for a free agent is steep under the current agreement, which says that if a free agent is under 24 or has fewer than five years in the league, the club that signs him must give up another player, subject to arbitration if the teams can't agree on compensation.
Free agents who make $85,000 to $99,000 are worth a third-round draft pick. A second- and a third-round draft pick are the compensation for a free agent who makes $100,000 to $124,000.
Players who make between $125,000 and $149,000 are worth a first-rounder and a player. The team signing the free agent, however, gets to protect eight players on its roster from the team losing the free agent.
Free agents who make between $150,000 to $199,000 go for a first- and second-round draft pick, or a first-rounder plus a player. The team signing the free agent may protect six of its players.
Compensation for players who make more than $200,000 is two first rounders, or a first-round pick and a player. The club that signed the player may protect only four players.
The players' association will meet with the owners at the All-Star game in February at Hartford, Conn.
Sam Simpson, director of operations for the players, said he does not expect much to happen during that session.
"We'll be going over all the small points at the February meeting--things like per diems, training-camp allowances and playoff amounts," Simpson said from his office in Toronto.
"The big talks start in June. We have set aside June, July and August to do most of the negotiating. We hope to have the meetings in Toronto.
"Unless the owners come up with some big proposals for total free agency, there will probably be a strike."
Simpson said he has met with 17 of the 21 teams in the NHL to get their ideas on a possible strike. The teams he hasn't seen are the Kings, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues. He also said that a survey is being sent to the 480 members of the players' association.
How do the Kings feel about a possible strike?
The team captain, Dave Taylor, said: "We haven't discussed it yet. We're supposed to meet with Simpson in November. Everyone is in the same boat. We would do whatever the union voted to do. I think there is a good possibility the Kings would strike. We have to be united."
The average salary in the NHL last season was $152,000. Could the players survive a strike?
Simpson said: "They may have to survive a strike if they want to get what we want. We're looking for total free agency."
John Ziegler, NHL president, said: "This is nothing new. It (free agency) has a been a demand of the players for a number of years. A strike is a union alternative. It would be a man-bites-dog story if they said they wouldn't strike if you're not going to grant our demands."
Asked whether the NHL could survive a prolonged strike, Ziegler said: "I'm not going to comment on that. My position is, the less rhetoric in public, the better. We've always had a good relationship with the players' association."
Ziegler and Bill Wirtz, president of the Chicago Black Hawks, are the co-chairmen of the NHL owners' bargaining committee.
Hockey, unlike baseball and football, has never had a prolonged strike. There was a one-day walkout in 1971 during training camp over the issue of unsigned players being forced to report to camp.
NHL Notes Lou Nanne, the general manager of the Minnesota North Stars, got stuck on an elevator at the airport in Detroit when the team was returning home from a trip. . . . A company in Edmonton is donating $1,000 to the Canadian Cancer Society for every goal scored by Oiler center Glen Anderson. Anderson, who had a hat trick in a recent game against Calgary, has scored 10 goals. . . . Carey Wilson of the Calgary Flames, who was a pre-med student at Dartmouth before turning pro, worked on dissecting cadavers at the University of Manitoba during the summer in an independent study course. Wilson is one year away from his degree.