Collusion, or so it would appear. The owners won't bid on each other's free agents. And now there is even talk of closing the loophole that enriched collegians Staszak and Oates. Various parties in the NHL would like to hold a supplemental draft to cover un-drafted college players. "We should treat them like Europeans," says Oilers general manager and coach Glen Sather. "If you're not drafted, you can't play."
Sure, and how about requiring the players to call you Massa, too? "Today, free agency in hockey means nobody wants you." says McEwen, who was able to go through the free-agent process successfully only because he had signed a termination (no compensation required) contract with Washington.
But tomorrow.... Ah, the players are restless, particularly now that they see what open-market value has meant to un-proven prospects like Staszak. "There's a better chance than not of a strike," says Kevin Lowe, Edmonton's player representative, looking to next September, when the Players' Association has the option of terminating the current collective bargaining agreement.
Even Lowe's teammate Wayne Gretzky. who is signed with the Oilers through 2001 and has previously expressed doubts about hockey's ability to withstand expanded free agency, says, "For the first time I hear players really talking seriously about wanting free agency." Acknowledging that the Red Wings' actions have given impetus to such talk. Gretzky says of Detroit's Dough Boys, "We'll all be watching."
Considering all they have to gain, they should be rooting, too.