QUEBEC -- In Canada, hockey is a generations-long love affair, and perhaps if you've lived the game the way Canadians have, you're allowed to demonstrate your ire over the lockout that delayed the start of the NHL season for 3 1/2 months.
But can the small crowds that turned out in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Edmonton be attributed to the lockout or economics?
"I think there may be a little backlash," said Winnipeg spokesman Mike O'Hern, whose Jets drew a league-low 9,725 Saturday. "I think the American fans are perhaps a little more educated. They've seen strikes in the NFL and baseball past and present. Maybe they're more acclimated to this kind of stuff happening.
"Up here, the people take it a little tougher. But I think what we saw here in Winnipeg was an economic issue. No one knew when the season was going to start, and then the first three home games came right between two pay periods for a lot of people."
In Vancouver, the Canucks lost nearly 1,000 season-ticket holders when prices were raised as much as 50 percent for some seats, reportedly to pay increased salaries to the men who took the Canucks to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals last June. Tickets now top out at $63.
So far, the New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks, Hartford Whalers, Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning (with a record 26,387), Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins have sold out their home openers.
The Montreal Canadiens anticipate a sellout tonight. The Dallas Stars expect a sellout for their opener Monday. The Ottawa Senators are sold out for their home opener Saturday. The Washington Capitals say that ticket sales are going well for their home opener Friday and that club officials hope for a sellout but won't know until game time.
It didn't take long for the new collective bargaining agreement to produce results in Canada. With a rookie salary cap going into effect next season, holdouts Radek Bonk came to terms in Ottawa and Peter Forsberg signed in Quebec. So what are Brendan Witt and his agent Mark Hall waiting for?
Although it isn't known how the CBA will work in the long run, the rookie cap should help the struggling Canadian teams stay competitive, if they draft wisely.
"I don't think there is any doubt that the new CBA impacted our ability to sign Radek Bonk," said Ottawa general manager Randy Sexton. "I think there is a whole new market in place for rookies and all players now. I think we're seeing the first step in market correction."
When the rookie cap kicks in, a young player won't make more than $2,550,000 over a three-year, two-way contract. Bonk reportedly signed a five-year, $6.125 million deal; Forsberg is said to have signed for $1.2 million for each of three years.
He's from Belleville, Ontario, speaks perfect English and looks like the boy next door.
And Marc Crawford knows something about hockey, too.
But when he got his first NHL head coaching job this season with the Quebec Nordiques, he wasn't about to take any chances with his acceptance in a town known for its hockey mania and its desire to be French-speaking.
"I could speak a little French," said Crawford, 33, who spent the previous three seasons as coach of the St. John's Maple Leafs in the American Hockey League. "My mother and my wife are French-Canadian. I was OK, but to get a real command of the language takes some time. I'm not there yet, but I have a professor, who I worked with during the conflict [lockout]. I worked with her four times a week and a couple hours at a time.
Now, we work a couple days a week."
Nothing to bandy about
While Capitals defenseman Calle Johansson was home in Sweden, he hooked up with an old friend who owns the Kallered bandy team.
"It's a good sport played in Northern Europe, like Sweden, Norway, Russia," said Johansson, who played the game briefly about 15 years ago. "It's a lot like women's field hockey, but it is played on ice with an orange ball about the size of a baseball."
Johansson said there are 6-inch-high boards around the playing surface to keep the ball in play.
"The goal, the net is huge," Johansson said. "It's got to be the worst job in the world to be goalie there, because when someone shoots, there is almost no chance to make a save unless the ball hits you."
That was OK with Johansson, who played midfield and was shooting the ball.
"I'll get you a videotape," he offered. "I scored three goals."
It's an easy game?
B6 "Yeah," he said with a laugh. "It's an easy game."
Around the rinks
When the New York Rangers' Greg Gilbert heard he had been picked up off the waiver wire by St. Louis and former Rangers coach Mike Keenan, he sighed, "Back to hell." No one could tell if he was kidding. . . . Defenseman Kevin Hatcher has his six-year, $15 million contract in Dallas, but the Stars have seen little of what they paid for. The former Washington team captain, who was traded to Dallas last week for Stars captain Mark Tinordi, arrived out of condition and has been working "to get his legs back," said a Dallas official, who added, "he's a little soft." Last night against Los Angeles, Hatcher had an assist and an empty-net goal.