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Updated: July 7th, 2012 3:17pm
Zulgad: Possible work stoppage means fans might have to be patient

Zulgad: Possible work stoppage means fans might have to be patient

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The Minnesota Wild have sold more than 1,500 season tickets since the July 4 announcement that free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter had each signed 13-year, $98 million contracts.

The Wild's team stores have been moving Parise and Suter jerseys just about as fast as they can make them, and on Monday the players will be introduced at a news conference at Xcel Energy Center that should be the most festive in the team's 12-year history.

In the course of the past week, the Wild has gone from a team that has not made the playoffs in four seasons, to a team that was expected to rely on its young talent to help eventually end that drought, to a club that now should be viewed as one of the best in the Western Conference.

So what could possibly put a damper on things?

Well, there is always the possibility Wild fans won't see Parise or Suter play a game until mid-winter at the earliest. Hate to rain on the parade here, but the NHL might do an excellent job of that for you.

Eight years after the league lost an entire season to a lockout, labor unrest again could create havoc for the hockey world.

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire on Sept. 15. The NHL and NHL Players Association completed two days of negotiations this week in New York and the sides have agreed to continue with talks next week in Toronto.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that it's rare for these types of agreements to get done before the deadline - an expiration date right after the Stanley Cup would have been better for those who want to see a complete 2012-13 season - and it also can't be considered a positive that Donald Fehr is now running the show for the NHL Players Association.

Fehr is the former head of the baseball union and he's a man who is accustomed to getting what he wants. He certainly can't like what he sees from the agreement that will soon expire.

The players accepted a salary cap, a 24 percent rollback in salaries and escrow payments. Getting those concessions from former union head Bob Goodenow was a huge victory for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners.

It's hard to believe Fehr isn't going to want some things back. Fehr also likely will point to the decision by Wild owner Craig Leipold to give Parise and Suter a combined $196 million as evidence that the NHL is in far better shape than it was in 2004-05.

Fehr would be right and he has other evidence to bring to the table.

The NHL recorded record revenues in 2011-12 and, according to a story on the CBC website, the current CBA has saved NHL owners upward of $2 billion.

Just how much of that Fehr plans to go after remains to be seen, but it's highly unlikely that the status quo will be considered to be a good landing spot by the players.

That means this could become more contentious as Sept. 15 nears. Fehr has suggested there is a chance training camp and the season could go on as usual if a new CBA isn't completed but negotiations are going well when mid-September hits.

This sounds good for now but a realist has to be skeptical it will happen.

Remember, the NHLPA also put a halt to the league's plans to realign for next season, despite the fact that going from two three-division conferences to six divisions made sense for many teams and players when it came to travel.

In other words, the NHLPA objected to something that would have benefitted many of its members. Why? It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Fehr is only going to give Bettman and the owners what they want when he is happy with what the NHLPA is getting.

One would think that the NHL and its players association would not be foolish enough to risk losing another entire season, but there does have to be a genuine concern we are in for a shortened season.

How short?

The NBA lockout that ran from last summer into the winter lasted for 161 days and ended with an agreement on a 10-year CBA that has a mutual opt out in 2017. The season was shortened to 66 games and started on Christmas Day.

The difference, however, was that the lockout began on July 1. In this case, no work stoppage would go into effect until the middle of September.

A shortened NHL season wouldn't be the end of the world by any means, but for Wild fans it would mean that patience is going to have to be key after what has turned into their summer of fun.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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