Absence of CBA claims annual event

NEW YORK -- The NHL canceled its draft Thursday, the latest
casualty of the six-month lockout.

The annual event was scheduled for June 25-26 in Ottawa, but it
was scrapped along with the entire 2004-05 season that was called
off Feb. 16. The draft can't proceed without a collective
bargaining agreement.

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

"The Ottawa area hotels had already gone far beyond their
normal reservation policies in allowing us to hold 4,500 rooms for
the draft event,'' Daly told The Associated Press. "They weren't
prepared to extend that longer.''

It was another blow for the NHL, which wanted to have a new
labor agreement with the players' association in time to hold the
draft on schedule. The league, which imposed the lockout Sept. 16,
quickly initiated talks with the union just a few weeks after the
season was lost.

But there is still no deal.

"The timing is very, very important because the sooner we make
a deal, the sooner we can all put this labor dispute behind us and
start working toward the future,'' Daly said.

So Canadian phenom Sidney Crosby -- most likely the No. 1 pick --
remains in limbo. Once a deal is in place, the NHL will have to
determine the selection order.

"I'm disappointed to hear that the NHL has canceled the
draft,'' Crosby said. "Although I knew this could be a
possibility, given the current situation, I feel bad for all of the
players who worked so hard to get to this point.''

The 17-year-old forward is currently preparing for the Quebec
Major Junior Hockey League playoffs.

"All of us had been looking forward to having our names called
in Ottawa,'' Crosby said. "Unfortunately this is something that is
out of our control.''

Daly said there already has been considerable discussion about
how teams will pick. If a collective bargaining agreement is
reached soon, a live draft could still be held.

Regardless of when the lockout ends, a draft will then take
place and could be conducted by a simple conference call among the
30 teams.

"I can't imagine the NHL doing a draft over the phone with
their first round,'' Crosby's agent Pat Brisson told the AP.

Usually, the draft order is set by the previous season's
standings, but that is not possible this year.

Washington won last year's draft lottery, after finishing with
the league's second-worst record, and grabbed Russian sensation
Alexander Ovechkin with the No. 1 pick. The Capitals would love the
chance to go first again and add Crosby to a lineup that would be
markedly improved since the last time they took the ice nearly a
year ago.

"I know at one point there will be a draft,'' Brisson said.
"We'll explore our options at the end of the season and see where
we're at.''

Similar to the city of Atlanta, which lost the chance to host
this year's All-Star game, it is unknown when Ottawa will be able
to hold the draft. The NHL said the league is committed to bringing
the event back there as soon as possible.

The earliest Atlanta can host the All-Star festivities is 2008
since the sites for the next two years have been assigned.

The NHL made two labor proposals to the players' association
last week. One contained a system in which player salaries are
linked to league revenues and the other didn't.

The union did not seem impressed, but it didn't reject the
offers right away. Instead, the players' association is holding a
three-day meeting this week and might be preparing a
counterproposal. After those meetings are concluded, the players'
association said it will get back in touch with the league.

The NHL told the union that if it wanted to pursue a
"de-linked'' system, those negotiations would have to be held
quickly. The draft was one deadline the league hoped to beat, but
that wasn't possible.

NHL general managers are to meet in Detroit on April 7-8 to
further discuss rules changes the league hopes will spice up the
game and draw back fans already angry a full hockey year was lost.

Then the league's board of governors will meet April 20 to
discuss next season. The NHL said it is committed to playing hockey
next season, with or without a labor agreement. The use of
replacement players already has been discussed.