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Lockout ‘poses a grave danger’ for NHL, PM says

The Bell Center, home of the Montreal Canadiens, in Montreal, February 4, 2005.

CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS

The Prime Minister is warning that the increasingly bitter NHL lockout is placing the league in jeopardy by alienating fans.

"I think this poses a grave danger for the National Hockey League," Stephen Harper told a Quebec-based TV sports network Tuesday in an interview.

"In the end, the NHL and its players are a company, a business," he told TVA Sports. "And if you withhold the product twice in a decade from your customers, I think that you're putting the entire situation in danger."

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The situation could not only imperil a season but a great national sport, Mr. Harper said.

The current lockout, which began more than 90 days ago, is the second to plague the league in the past decade. The last one took place in 2004-2005 and resulted in the cancellation of the entire season.

Mr. Harper, an avid fan and amateur historian of the game, said it's sad to see relations between owners and players "so broken" that they put the league at risk.

Marketing experts have warned in recent weeks that the dispute may hurt the NHL's brand because it will anger devoted fans and drive away lukewarm ones.

Mr. Harper said he hopes the holiday season puts the owners and players in a mood to settle.

"I hope that with the positive emotions of the season, they will be able to seek an agreement."

He said he has accepted the situation in recent weeks, though, and instead turned his attention to the world junior championship that begins in Ufa, Russia, next week.

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The Prime Minister diplomatically refused to take sides in the lockout, saying he knows some of the players and owners.

"Since childhood, these players have worked very hard to become the best in the world. Their careers are short," he said.

The owners, he acknowledged, are rich. "But for the most part they have not earned their wealth in hockey. They are there to promote the sport."

Mr. Harper's comments come as the NHL and players take their dispute to the courts in the hope of gaining leverage over each other.

According to The Canadian Press, more than 500 regular-season NHL games through Dec. 30 have already been cancelled.

The Prime Minister's comments come days after U.S. President Barack Obama, not known for being a hockey fan, urged NHL players and owners to solve their disagreements.

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"You make a lot of money on the backs of fans, so do right by your fans," Mr. Obama said during an interview with a Minnesota TV station on Dec. 13.

"I shouldn't have to be involved in a dispute between really wealthy players and even wealthier owners. They should be able to settle this themselves. And remember who it is that's putting all that money in their pockets."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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