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The next 2-3 months will prove critical to the future path of the National Hockey League, and probably to the careers of many incumbent players. If no deal is made to end the lockout in time to salvage at least the second half of the season, the entire 2004-05 campaign will be lost. If that happens, and if there is no agreement reached next summer between owners and players - and by then, the ill-feeling on both sides could be so severe no accord is possible - it appears likely NHL management will go ahead with a much-speculated-upon attempt to restart the league using replacement players.

High level NHL officials, including commissioner Gary Bettman and Bruins president Harry Sinden, have said this dire move, while possible, is not in the league's long-range plan. But Steve Belkin, the Weston businessman who is the new owner of the Atlanta Thrashers (along with the NBA Hawks and Atlanta's Philips Arena), confirmed early this week that replacements would be the method employed to bring the NHL back to life.

Who notes Belkin was fined $250k by the NHL for his comments, but you have to wonder if this was not an owner scare tactic timed to coincide with what would have been the start of the 2004-05 season...
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