It should have been an occasion for the Tampa Bay Lightning to bask one more time in the glow of winning the Stanley Cup.
Instead, the first-time champions received their diamond-laden rings Tuesday in Tampa in a private ceremony the team received permission for despite the NHL lockout threatening to wipe out the season.
_____ From The Post _____ • Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky take part in six-hour meeting between NHL and players' union but no deal is reached.
• Commissioner Gary Bettman officially cancels the NHL season.
• There is speculation about where the league goes from here and whether it can survive.
• Michael Wilbon: There's no question the league and its owners won this particular battle.
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_____ On Our Site _____ • Audio: The Post's Thomas Heath discusses the end of the season.
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_____ Lockout At a Glance _____ • NO SEASON: The NHL season was canceled Feb. 16 over a lockout that started before training camps opened last September. It's the first major North American sport to lose an entire season to a labor dispute.
• THE REASON: The NHL and the players' association couldn't resolve how to split revenues from the $2 billion industry. The league demanded a salary cap, but by the time the players agreed to that, it was too late to work out how much the cap would be.
• WHAT'S NEXT?: The NHL could seek the declaration of an impasse, which allowing it to implement its last offer, open training camps in September and invite players back. The players' association would likely respond with a strike.
_____NHL's Path to Ruin_____
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"It was quiet and very low-key," Jay Preble, the team's director of public relations, said yesterday.
Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Nikolai Khabibulin -- who have signed with European teams -- were not among the 15 players at the St. Pete Times Forum for the presentation by Lightning President Ron Campbell, General Manager Jay Feaster and Coach John Tortorella.
The rings feature 138 diamonds -- one for each of the 106 points the Lightning earned in the regular season and two each for 16 victories during the playoffs. The Stanley Cup is depicted in blue diamonds.
Afterward, the players walked across the street to a hotel for lunch -- without coaches or team officials.
"This should have been at the Forum in front of 22,000 people as we walk up and get the rings. . . . and show the fans," center Tim Taylor told the St. Petersburg Times. "I personally feel the NHL has taken some of that away from us."
-- From News Services