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Viktor Stalberg sounds excited about possibility Jets joining Hawks’ division. | Rich Lam~Getty Images

Viktor Stalberg sounds excited about the possibility of the Jets joining the Hawks’ division. | Rich Lam~Getty Images

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Updated: December 28, 2011 10:13AM



LOS ANGELES — With the NBA lockout almost over, the NHL’s issues soon will come to the forefront.

The league’s collective-bargaining agreement with its players ends Sept. 15, 2012. There also is the temperamental topic of realignment. Both should get considerable attention as the season progresses.

With the arrivals of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin and the revivals of the Blackhawks and Boston Bruins, the NHL has made huge strides since becoming the first major pro sports league to cancel an entire season (2004-05) because of a labor dispute.

As discussions led by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and new NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr get going, fans figure to harbor fears of another lockout. A season-canceling lockout seems unlikely, but there are still some issues that might drag out negotiations.

“Bettman and his group are preparing very well for it,” Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said recently. “I think they’re going to learn something from these negotiations with the NBA. I don’t know if they’re going to necessarily translate over, but that will probably heat up as the year goes along.”

Like the NBA, revenue sharing should be a topic. Players are entitled to 56 percent-57 percent of league revenues in any year in which revenues exceed $2.7 billion. The NHL topped that mark last season and is expected to this year.

Long-term, front-loaded contracts also figure to get attention. They had become common practice under the current CBA, which had to be amended after Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract debacle with the New Jersey Devils.

Still, many believe the negotiations won’t be as volatile as they were in 2004, when the players finally agreed to a hard salary cap.

“We went from a system that didn’t have a cap to one that does have a cap,” said Bowman, who knows more than most how the cap can affect a team. “It’s probably a matter of tweaking that. It was a bigger hurdle mentally more than anything for the players. You get in that stance saying we’ll never take a cap, and we’re saying we need a cap. Now, we’re trying to formulate the best structure within that.”

Realignment also is inevitable. The Winnipeg Jets will move to the Western Conference next season after staying in the Atlanta Thrashers’ former spot in the East’s Southeast Division this season.

The Hawks might be directly affected because the Central Division rival Detroit Red Wings, one of two Eastern time-zone teams (Columbus Blue Jackets) in the West, have pushed to join the East. Another option is a four-division league instead of the current six.

“We certainly like that rivalry, and we wouldn’t want to lose that in a perfect world,” Bowman said. “But I realize there are certain strategies or certain proposals that involve them going East. If that happened, then I’m sure we’d develop new rivals. But if you’re saying, ‘Do we like it?’ Then, ‘Yeah, we like playing the Red Wings.’ ”

Bowman said travel is the main factor.

“Eastern teams have it easier,” he said. “That’s obvious.”

Hawks winger Viktor Stalberg, who has played in both conferences, agrees.

“Time zone changes,” Stalberg said. “Sometimes when you don’t have time to adjust, it can get tough.

“The last thing I heard was that Detroit was going to get it, but that’s pretty much what everyone else heard, too. If we get Winnipeg in our division, they’ll be a good team. It seems like they have a good crowd going up there and will be a better team in the future.”



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