Replacement players look like the best option, Francis: Ice-cold reception

"If last night's crowd for the Ryan Smyth and Friends All-star charity tour is any indication of the type of reception the game's best players will receive whenever they return to the NHL, then hockey's future is as bleak as Jose Canseco's.

One night after the Oldtimers drew a near-capacity crowd of 5,700 here, a long list of prominent NHLers attracted a meagre 800 fans last night."

Robert Tychkowski, Edmonton Sun: Kicked in the seat

"Some 30 NHLers show up in a small, isolated centre that's never had NHL hockey, never gets to see real, live big-leaguers this close, and they won't even cross the street to see it? That, my friends, is the turnstile equivalent of a middle finger.

About the only passion they showed came when they booed Mike Comrie and broke into chants of "Comrie Sucks.""

It is now officially too late for the NHLPA. It is doomed, and yesterday was the proof.

This makes me wonder, would the Edmonton Oilers, nay the NHL, be better off with replacement players next season? It's quite possible that NHL fans, even in Oilers-loving hockey-rabid Edmonton, are so disgusted with the NHLPA they might not be able to stomach an NHLPA-filled roster for a while, and furthermore, would fill the seats in droves to see replacement players who would do anything to give their team a chance to win the Stanley Cup.

Oilers fans need to believe their players love hockey above all else. As Oilers fans have learned more than any other fan base over the years, players come and go, but the team lives on, its spirit and tradition endures, and it's the team, the crest on the jersey that people admire, cheer and hold hope for. If a player loses the city's trust, he's run out of town... Arnott and Comrie are two prime examples in Edmonton.

I feel the NHLPA membership has disgraced our game and has lost our admiration, encouragement and hope. How can they get it back? I don't know.

The NHLPA players in the charity game tried to suggest the low turnout wasn't because of the lockout. Who's believing that? No-one. Just look at the OSHL (Original Stars Hockey League) that completely flopped last fall for more evidence. The fan boycott started on September 15th and has only intensified.

At this point I think the NHL would do better in 2005-06, at least in Canada, without the NHLPA involved. Further, I'll predict today that if the NHL and the PA ever strike a deal, the Oilers will be booed fiercely when they take the ice in their home opener, save for an amazing PR campaign by the NHL to win back the fans' love of their players. Conversely, a scab-filled Oilers team will be given a rousing standing ovation.

Written on March 23, 2005