Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Replacement-player talk is best laugh of NHL lockout

The NHL lockout hasn't provided much levity in its three-week run. And things got downright serious last week when negotiations broke down and the league canceled the first two weeks of the regular season.

That is why the rumor that recently surged through Twitter and the Internet that the league is considering using replacement players was so welcome.

It gave us a chance to laugh, as Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier did last week when asked to contemplate the scenario.

"I don't even know what to say about that," he said at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon. "Obviously, if (the NHL) wants the best league, taking 700 players and replacing them, it's probably not going to be the best league."

There was no confirmation the league plans to use replacement players. The discussion started only because Bill Watters, a former Maple Leafs assistant general manager and agent, said on a Toronto radio show he believes commissioner Gary Bettman will use them in November to try to break the union.

There are plenty of players to go around, Watters said, in the AHL and ECHL, and among free agents.

Forget for a moment the hard feelings if NHL teams raided their affiliates for players. The replacement act has been tried before, with disastrous results.

The NFL used it during the 1987 players strike. Mike Lynn, general manager of the Vikings at the time, told Minnesota's Star-Tribune in 2011 the episode that included blooper-reel games and sparse crowds was "embarrassing" and a "bad, bad part of the history of the National Football League."

ESPN baseball writer Tim Kurkjian had a similar reaction to Major League Baseball using replacement players during spring training in 1995 while the union players were on strike. "It was one of the lowest points in baseball history," he wrote in 2002, "a time of anger, confusion and disgrace."

Said Lynn: "The relationship between owners and players should never come to something like that."

Nor should the relationship between owners and referees (as the NFL's debacle with replacement officials confirmed) and especially owners and fans, who should be insulted if they are asked to pay for an inferior — some would say phony — product.

There is a reason, after all, replacement players (and referees) are not in the big leagues to begin with.

"Fans pay top dollar to see a great show, and you put replacement players out there, you're not bringing the best show to the fans," Lightning wing Marty St. Louis said. "Football and baseball tried it, and it was awful."

"People don't want to see that," Lecavalier said. "They want to watch NHL players. I don't think it's even going to be a consideration."

But it is good for a laugh.

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