The million-dollar question Tuesday night was whether defenseman Roman Hamrlik, the No. 1 overall pick in June's entry draft, will play in the Tampa Bay Lightning's opener tonight.
The Lightning had not received a release or a copy of Hamrlik's contract with his Czechoslovakian team, ZPS Zlin.
Lightning general manager Phil Esposito said he will not send Zlin $75,000 _ the first of three payments totaling $200,000 _ for Hamrlik's release until he gets those papers.
"We'll get an injunction if we don't get the paperwork," Esposito said. "We've agreed, so I don't understand why they just won't send the paperwork."
Henry Paul, the team's vice president and general counsel, said if he doesn't get the necessary papers, the team will "evaluate its options."
The NHL does not allow a player to compete in regular-season games without a contract. And the NHL does not recognize a new contract if a player has an existing one.
Once the Lightning gets the release, Hamrlik's contract with Tampa Bay, a $1.5-million deal over three years, is expected to be finalized quickly.
Tonight's game against the Chicago Blackhawks at Expo Hall is sold out.
A 30-minute pregame show will begin at about 7:30 p.m. The show requires the arena to be dark because of lasers and pyrotechnics, so all fans are asked to arrive early and be seated by 7:20 p.m.
Each person attending the game will receive a commemorative ticket. Season ticket-holders received commemorative tickets with their season-ticket packages.
The first lineup
The Lightning is expected to start Wendell Young in goal, with Pat Jablonski backing him up.
On defense, it's Rob Ramage, Joe Reekie, Doug Crossman, Marc Bergevin, Peter Taglianetti and Hamrlik.
If Hamrlik cannot play, Lightning coach Terry Crisp said he'll play either veteran Rick Lanz or Stephane Richer, who has never played a game in the NHL but has had a strong training camp.
The Lightning's lines are:
Right wing John Tucker, center Brian Bradley and left wing Mike Hartman.
Right wing Mikael Andersson, center Ken Hodge and left wing Rob Zamuner.
Right wing Anatoli Semenov, center Rob DiMaio and left wing Basil McRae.
Right wing Stan Drulia, center Adam Creighton and left wing Chris Kontos.
Looking out for the players
In a Lightning players' meeting Tuesday, Reekie was voted the team's representative to the NHL Players Association. Danton Cole was named the team's assistant representative.
"I started looking seriously at the P.A. (players' association) last season," Reekie said. "With the awareness that it got last year, I became more and more interested. It's a responsibility to our players, and it's a part of hockey.
"We shook a lot of heads last year with what happened (first players' strike in NHL history). We gained a lot of ground, and everyone knows our contract is up in September. Everyone knows it's going to be another summer of negotiations."
Voice at the game
Paul Porter was named the public-address announcer for the Lightning games. Porter also is the public-address announcer for the Orlando Magic and formerly announced for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
There are nine conflicts between the Magic and Lightning schedules. In Porter's absence, Alex Hewko will fill in.
_ CAMMY CLARK