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NHL Draft Is Casualty Of Labor Dispute

Friday, March 25, 2005; Page D02

A month after the NHL's labor dispute forced the cancellation of the 2004-05 season, the 2005 entry draft fell victim yesterday to the seven-month standoff between the owners and players.

The draft had been scheduled for Corel Center in Ottawa on June 25-26, but it cannot be held in the absence of a collective bargaining agreement, NHL Executive Vice President Bill Daly said in a statement.

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Daly apologized to the city of Ottawa, the fans and "to everyone who already had put so much time and effort into creating a memorable weekend for the players and their families."

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman scrapped the season on Feb. 16, then quickly initiated a new round of talks with the players' union in the hopes of striking a deal and saving the draft. But last week's talks failed to move the negotiations forward.

If a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement is struck in the near future, a draft could be held via conference call. But there's a problem: Without a season, how does the league determine draft order? Considering Canadian phenom Sidney Crosby -- widely considered to be the best talent in a generation and a virtual lock to be the top pick -- is available, draft order is something in which all 30 teams have a keen interest.

The NHL made two proposals to the players last week, one that included a link between league revenue and player salaries, and one that did not. The players were not impressed by the offers but did not reject them. It's believed the players could be working on a counterproposal.

-- Tarik El-Bashir

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