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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has yet to sit down with new union leader Donald Fehr.

Jay Laprete, Associated Press - Ap

Michael Russo's Sunday Insider: NHL could be next season's NBA

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO
  • Star Tribune
  • March 17, 2012 - 10:01 PM

The custodians of the game, as Brian Burke likes to call the general managers, met in Boca Raton, Fla., last week for some fun in the sun.

Between golf and dips in the ocean, the GMs talked hockey and supported the switch to hybrid icing in time for next season -- pending the language of the rule being drafted and ratification from the Competition Committee and Board of Governors this summer.

Good news. What's not good news is we still don't know if there will be a next season.

The collective bargaining agreement expires Sept. 15 and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has yet to sit across the table from new NHL Players' Association Executive Director Donald Fehr.

When will the sides meet?

"You'd have to ask the Players' Association. We've been ready," Bettman said.

Deadlines force urgency, so we know we're not going to wake up in May or June and find out a new CBA has been agreed upon. This thing will at least go to the 11th hour in September and could potentially cause a delay to training camp or, worse, the start of the season.

The NHL already has scrapped the season starting in Europe for the first time since 2007. This is a league that locked out players for the 2004-05 season and still returned with seven consecutive years of record revenue, so don't think for a second NHL owners won't do it again if they can't get the players' portion of the pie to drop from 57 percent to around 50.

In the meantime, Bettman told GMs to conduct business as usual under the current CBA this summer. That's scary since the salary cap could climb to around $69 million, but if the league has its way, the cap would drop to around $59 million to start the next CBA.

Teams would then have to get in line with that, so they better be careful with their offseason spending.

"The update is there was no update," Bettman said. "There's nothing going on."

Ugh.

College prospects

With college hockey season winding down, 'tis the season of undrafted free-agent signings.

Under GM Chuck Fletcher, the Wild has signed Casey Wellman, Nate Prosser, Jarod Palmer, Justin Fontaine and Chay Genoway. It also signed Chad Rau and Kris Fredheim to AHL deals, and ultimately NHL deals.

The Wild is not expected to be nearly as aggressive these next several weeks. It has an eye on a defenseman or two and Minnesota Duluth winger J.T. Brown but has only two available contracts left for a player to start this season and, with many prospects about to turn pro in time for next season, it must make sure it doesn't go over the maximum 50 contracts.

"We're in a different place than we were three years ago when we needed depth," Fletcher said.

Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Carolina and Pittsburgh are in hot pursuit of Brown, and he would see better opportunity at the forward position with those teams than he would in Minnesota.

Waiting game

Last month, it seemed a given that defenseman Justin Schultz's career with Anaheim would start as soon as the University of Wisconsin's season ended.

That happened last weekend, but he has yet to sign. Now it appears he might pull a Blake Wheeler and become a free agent July 1. Wheeler, a former Gopher, took advantage of an option in the CBA when he forced his way out of Phoenix four years after being drafted in 2008.

That created a frenzy for Wheeler's services. Boston signed him, and four years later, he's having a great year in Winnipeg. If Schultz becomes free, expect several teams to pursue the offensive defenseman, including the Wild and his hometown Vancouver Canucks.

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