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Timing could be key to agreement

A players' strike? An owners' lockout?

Those are dirty words in the National Hockey League. They also are possibilities.

The collective bargaining agreement between the NHL Players Association and NHL owners expired Sept. 15. Both sides are operating under the expired agreement until a new one is negotiated.

But to date, not much headway has been made. There have been no formal negotiations since September, although a meeting is planned for Monday in New York. The key sticking point is free-agency. The players want a less restrictive policy.

The best time for an owners' lockout was at the start of the season. Early season games are not great revenue producers for the owners, and most players are eager to start picking up paychecks again after the summer layoff.

The best time for a players' strike is right before the playoffs. Players' salaries are paid during the regular season. They receive only small bonuses for the playoffs. But for the owners, the playoffs are when most teams make the big bucks.

The players never have walked out in the 75-year history of the NHL. But don't think that won't happen if a new agreement isn't reached _ or at least positive strides made _ by the end of the regular season.

If the players don't act when they are at the advantage, the owners' time in the driver's seat will return this fall.

Road breakdowns: In the most recent issue of the Hockey News, a cartoon depicts Quebec Nordiques coach Pierre Page sitting in a chair with an NHL official saying:

"Let me get this straight You want to change your team name to "Gophers' because you both keep getting killed on the road?"

The Nordiques have not won a game away from the Colisee since March

10 of last season. They are 0-26-9 on the road since then and 0-23-7 away from home this season.

Quebec almost had a victory Thursday night at Pittsburgh. But Jaromir Jagr, coming off a 10-game suspension, scored in the final period to rally the Penguins to a 4-4 tie.

The Nordiques lost 4-0 Saturday at Hartford.

In control: New York Rangers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck's eyes light up when he plays Vancouver. Over eight seasons in the NHL, he is 14-1-0 against the Canucks.

Vanbiesbrouck: "Fortunately, I've had good success against this team, because I've had poor success against others."

Hall of Famer dies: Tommy Williams was 19 in 1960, when he was the youngest player on the United States' hockey team that won the gold medal.

Williams, a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, died Feb.

8 of a heart attack at age 51.

He had 161 goals and 430 assists over 13 seasons in the NHL for four teams (Boston, Minnesota, the California Golden Seals and Washington). He also played for the New England Whalers in the World Hockey League before retiring in 1976.

Steamed coach: The Boston Bruins may want you.

Boston coach Rick Bowness was so unhappy after his team's 6-3 loss to Los Angeles Monday that he threatened to replace half the players with Olympic athletes.

"The problem is 10 guys playing and 10 guys not playing," Bowness told the Associated Press. "You can't win on the road with 10 guys playing.

"So when the Olympics are over, those kids will have jobs. We can sign them up and give them jobs here. And some of these guys will have no one to blame but themselves. We're not putting up with that crap."