Brian Leetch, Rob Gilbert lament NHL lockout

New York Rangers' Brian Leetch pushing the puck New York Rangers' Brian Leetch pushing the puck up the ice against St. Louis at Madison Square Garden. (Dec. 20, 2000) Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr

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The Rangers were scheduled to play a regular season game Friday night in Los Angeles, right after the Kings hoisted the Stanley Cup for their fans in the Staples Center. The 2012-13 NHL season was supposed to start Thursday night with four games across North America -- in Philadelphia, Colorado, Calgary and Montreal. Instead, the first two weeks of the season have been canceled, and as the players and owners continue to negotiate without much progress, the entire season is in jeopardy.

At an event celebrating some of Madison Square Garden's greatest moments on Thursday, former Ranger greats spoke about the lockout.

"We lost a whole year last time [in the 1994-95 lockout] before we came to an agreement, and now the agreement's up and we're back in the same spot," said Brian Leetch, who played with the Rangers for 17 seasons before retiring in 2006. "As a guy who was part of losing a whole year of his career and as a guy who is more of a fan now I find it disappointing.

"I remember with each couple weeks that went by I was more and more shocked and disappointed that nothing was getting closer, and there was a realization that the season could be lost."

Leetch thinks that some of the post-lockout rule changes helped open up the game and generate more interest, which helped "kick-start the following year."

Rod Gilbert played for the Rangers from 1962-1978 and is now involved in community relations for the organization. He attended nearly every Rangers game last season. Gilbert alternated between speaking of this season as a lost cause and expressing hope that a deal could get done.

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"I was looking forward to a great season with Rick Nash coming over here and complementing [Marian] Gaborik and [Brad] Richards. I was excited and the lockout is a letdown."

Gilbert was in Toronto recently at a hockey event and said he spoke with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr.

"They seemed like they were on the same page," Gilbert said. "But they just can't make a deal. I said, 'Why don't you split it and get it over with? You're doing damage to the fans now.' "

Gilbert noted that a different team had won the Cup each of the last seven seasons since the last lockout, which helped build enthusiasm across the league.

"And now there's a chill," he said. "The longer they wait the sadder the fans get. We'll keep our fingers crossed that maybe something will happen by November. They could still get the season in."

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