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Belkin cited for discussing replacement players

NEW YORK -- The NHL fined one of the owners of the Atlanta Thrashers $250,000 on Tuesday for saying the league would use
replacement players next year if a new collective bargaining
agreement isn't reached, The Associated Press has learned.

Steve Belkin, a member of Atlanta Spirit, LLC -- the group that
bought the Thrashers earlier this year -- was given the hefty fine
for comments he made over the weekend to the Boston Herald, said an
official within the league speaking on the condition of anonymity.

"I deeply regret the comments I made to the Boston Herald,
which were my personal, uninformed views, and not those of the
Atlanta Thrashers' ownership and management -- nor those of the
National Hockey League," Belkin said in a statement.

Belkin, a Weston, Mass., businessman, said the NHL had a
solution for next fall if a new collective bargaining agreement
wasn't reached.

"We are going to try everything we can to resolve this,"
Belkin told the newspaper in its Sunday edition. "If we reach an
impasse and it goes on for a year, we will attempt to bring in
other players. That's not good for anyone. That's a last resort.
But if that's the only alternative, say, a year from now, we'll
probably proceed with doing that, and then hopefully start building
up the caliber of the players over a period of time."

That was more than enough for the NHL to hear. The league has
already metted out other large fines to those on the management
side who have spoken out of turn during the labor dispute with the
players association.

Los Angeles Kings president Tim Leiweke was hit with a fine he
called "a significant amount" for comments he made last month.

"Board members are reminded periodically about conduct that
would violate Bylaw 17.17, which prohibits comments pertaining to
the collective bargaining agreement or pending or future
negotiations," NHL spokesman Frank Brown said. "In addition to
being inappropriate and irresponsible, Mr. Belkin's comments also
were factually inaccurate and do not reflect the current views of
the National Hockey League."

Belkin also told the Boston Herald that he believed some NHL
players would rejoin the league immediately if it resumed play
without a negotiated deal.

"I think over a period of time, (the number of returnees) would
grow significantly," he said. "I hope we don't get there, but if
that's where we need to be a year from now, I still think it would
be the best hockey available in the world. And I think eventually
the caliber of the hockey would increase."

The league's collective bargaining agreement with the players
association expired last month, and commissioner Gary Bettman
immediately imposed a lockout that threatens the season that was
supposed to begin Wednesday night.

The sides haven't spoken or held negotiations since Sept. 9, one
week before the old deal ran out, and no new talks are scheduled.

"This whole development raises further doubts about the
approach the NHL has taken to date in our negotiations," NHLPA
senior director Ted Saskin said.