It's nearly impossible that the NHL will go to replacement players during this NHL lockout, but former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Bill Watters raised the issue on the radio the other night, and ever since, there's been a bit of a debate on whether or not the league would actually have the guts to make the move.
You can listen to the interview here. The replacement player stuff begins around the 17 minute mark as part of an overall discussion about the potential end of the lockout.
Legally, the league is allowed to use replacement players, but the hoops that Gary Bettman and the NHL would have to jump through to make it happen would likely prohibit it from actually happening. About.com has a really solid explanation of how this all could go down:
The replacement player scenario would likely begin with the league declaring a negotiating impasse - a claim that its dispute with the players cannot be resolved through collective bargaining. It could then impose new terms of employment without consulting the NHL Players' Association.
The Players' Association would almost certainly challenge that move by filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board in the United States. That would begin a process of appeals and hearings that could take months, to determine whether the NHL has negotiated in good faith throughout the dispute.
I doubt that either side wants to risk being tied up in court for months. Besides, after a period of months, the season could be over anyway. But in either case, this process could lead to the end of the lockout or the implementation of replacement players, depending on how the NLRB rules.
Even at that stage, it won't be all that easy: Law in some Canadian provinces apparently bans the use of replacements, and law in both the U.S. and Canada does not allow replacements from other countries, meaning Canadian players couldn't play for American teams and vice versa. Canadian teams may not even be able to play American teams. Complicated shit.
So with all of this, replacement players in the NHL this year seems more than unlikely. It seems nearly impossible.
But let's just play along for fun. (I mean, why not?) In the very off chance that the NHL were to implement replacement players, and if those replacement players pulled on Flyers sweaters and played a game against the Scab Pittsburgh Penguins at the WFC, would you go? Would you watch?
For me, it's really tough to say. I've always been a fan of the team and no one particular player, but I can't say I'd be able to support the team if they were instead some collection of over-the-hill vets and under-qualified foreigners. Although it could be damn funny.
Would you watch?