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Players Upset but Stay Resolute

The Kings' Miller is set for a long lockout, and Robitaille might retire. But they will not accept a salary cap.

September 16, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — King defenseman Aaron Miller is prepared for the NHL lockout to last a year. If that happens, teammate Luc Robitaille might prepare for retirement.

"I'm going to keep skating and stay in shape," Robitaille said Wednesday, after Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the NHL won't play again until a new labor deal is reached. "If this thing drags on for a year, I'll make a decision then."

Either way, he fears for hockey's future.

"In Canada, when the game comes back, the fans will always go back," said Robitaille, 38. "There's no other games there, really. In the U.S., the hard-core fans will always be there, but the new fans will move on and watch something else."

Miller expects a lengthy dispute. "The players will not take a salary cap. As soon as the owners realize that's not going to happen, we'll step up to the table," he said. "We have prepared for years for this lockout, and we know that a salary cap is not the right way to go. It should be a fair-market system."

Mighty Duck center Steve Rucchin is unhappy that matters stand at an impasse.

"I don't think 'frustrated' is strong enough of a word," he said. "The bottom line is, every player wants to play.... At the same time, the union, we believe strongly in our stance and the issues. People have to realize it's an owners' lockout and not a players' strike."

Some players have explored playing in Europe, but with clauses that would release them to return to North America if the NHL season started. Others might join barnstorming tours or a four-on-four league called the Original Stars Hockey League, which will play games in Canada.

The Ducks are considering staging a game at the Arrowhead Pond involving their Cincinnati farm team; the Kings had planned a "Hockey Day" celebration involving their Manchester, N.H., farm team for Oct. 23.

But that might not satisfy fans' hockey appetite, said Jeremy Roenick of the Philadelphia Flyers, one of the NHL's most recognizable stars.

"No question, this is going to hurt," he said. "A lot of people are going to get laid off, and a lot of fans might not come back. Teams like Carolina, Buffalo and Edmonton can't continue to operate without having any money coming in.

"The scary thing is that in the States, nobody is going to miss it. They'll keep watching college football and Monday Night Football and the weeks will fly by and it's January and people will say, 'Where's hockey?' By then it's going to be too late. It's going to be hard to regain those fans."

Disillusionment already has set in among fans.

"This is going to hurt hockey big time," said Janis Kotoff of Hawthorne, a King season-ticket holder for 10 years.

"I guess the hard-core fans will come back. The Kings always had 7,000 to 8,000 that stuck by them. The Duck crowds are in trouble, and Phoenix is done. It's frustrating because it seems the two sides are just waiting for the other to blink. They should be able to compromise."

Larry Trott of Buena Park is a relatively new Duck fan whose children play the game.

"Unfortunately, that's about the only hockey we're going to see this season," he said. "The fan base has grown since Wayne Gretzky came here to play. But I know we didn't buy tickets this year."

Times staff writers Mike Bresnahan and Chris Foster contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

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