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Players will need to put bad feelings on ice if lockout ends

From left, Winnipeg Jets' Ron Hainsey, Vancouver Canucks'

From left, Winnipeg Jets' Ron Hainsey, Vancouver Canucks' Manny Malhotra and Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby listen as NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr speaks to reporters. (Dec. 6, 2012) Credit: AP

There are roughly 15 days left for the NHL and the players association to save any sort of regular season. The issues, the animosity, the stubbornness -- those things have been dissected over and over while fans either fume or, worse, move on.

Let's be optimistic and say the NHL and the players come to a deal and a 48-game season begins around Jan. 15. What would such a season look like? What would the Islanders and Rangers look like? And would players and owners and the league itself be able to work together again?

That last question will be the first one the players and the league will have to answer. The personal feelings that NHL owners have for union chief Don Fehr won't matter much after a deal is struck. The feelings that players have for commissioner Gary Bettman still will matter, though, because the players make the league and need to be promoted to restore the game.

"I think the league is still something we're fortunate to have," Rangers center Brad Richards said. "The players, we have to get through this, like any negotiation, but once it gets done, you've got to be professional. You go out, you play for the logo and the city you're living in. All that other stuff has got to be put aside, and I'm sure it will be. I don't think there's a lot of trust, that's why there is no deal yet, but there's nothing you can do about that now. We're way past that."

The local teams might benefit from their owners not being front and center in the negotiations. Charles Wang has not been heavily involved, and James Dolan reportedly has been working behind the scenes to rally more moderate owners to restart talks. Other owners, such as the Bruins' Jeremy Jacobs and the Wild's Craig Leipold, have been prominent and could risk more of their players' ire if the lockout ends.

"I can't speak for all my teammates, but I don't think there's any ill will toward Charles or Garth [Snow, the Islanders' GM]," Isles forward Matt Martin said. "There could be some guys around the league who'll feel differently, I would imagine, given the negotiations and the contracts that were signed. But I think our guys know this is a business, and when it's time, our job is to play hockey. That's what we want to do."

Soothing hurt feelings might be the easy part. The practical challenges of assembling players for a week of training camp might be too long to list here:

There are coaches who will have trouble trying to get their players into game shape with just a week of work -- and no knowledge of their fitness levels when they arrive.

There are teams with as many as a half-dozen players currently in the AHL whom they would want to attend NHL camp. In the Isles' case, some of those players are hurt, including Travis Hamonic (concussion) and Brock Nelson (facial fractures), which complicates matters.

And there are the unknowns. The salary cap could be drastically reduced, and there's no way to know what transitional remedies -- amnesty buyouts, waivers, bonus exceptions -- will be available to Snow and Glen Sather in a very small window to become compliant. But in a way, all these uncertainties would be the good news. "We'd love to have those problems,'' Richards said, "because it means there's a deal and we're playing."

Which would mean that the talk of how to bring fans back to a game that's been heavily damaged by a rather petty and cynical lockout fight would give way to the game -- the thing that brought the fans in the first place.

"We all love the game," Rangers center Mike Rupp said. "It's done so much for us . . . I don't know how you make it up to the fans or what you do, but usually the story lines take care of themselves over the course of the season. So we'll play the way we always play, play with our hearts, and hopefully that will help get some fans interested again."

The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Rangers, Madison Square Garden and CablevisionCablevision owns Newsday.

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