He still believes the Quad-Cities is a "viable market" for the Central Hockey League's upcoming season, but CHL commissioner Duane Lewis indicated the clock is running.

Lewis said CHL teams will have to submit protected lists of players they hope to retain from the previous season's rosters in time for the league's annual meetings starting June 10 in Phoenix. It is a date outlined in an agreement with the Pro Hockey Players Association.

That makes one week from Friday an effective deadline for an interested party to emerge to replace Eric Karls, the first-year owner who abruptly closed the Quad-City Mallards on May 11.

Although Lewis said a new owner conceivably could recruit both new and returning players after June 10, he wouldn't call it a soft deadline.

"Beyond that, it's difficult," he said. "In our minds, it's probably more of a hard deadline."

The league is assisting efforts by i wireless Center executive director Scott Mullen to find a person or group interested in becoming the fourth to own a Q-C pro hockey team in the past four years.

Mullen said he has a call scheduled Thursday with one prospective new owner. Lewis said the league continues to try and funnel interest Mullen's direction.

"We are still working on that one with various parties, trying to make it happen," Lewis said. "We haven't shut the door on the Mallards yet because we still believe this is a viable market for us."

Lewis said at least two parties shopping for a hockey opportunity have "fallen by the wayside, but we are still working with various people to see if we can make this work."

Asked to name a number of remaining ownership candidates, he said, "Legitimate? Maybe one. Maybe two. There's still people that keep asking questions and keep inquiring about the situation. We just can't make it happen fast enough."

Lewis said he has not spoken to Karls since before the Canadian millionaire made his surprising mid-May decision. He could not say how involved Karls remains in the process of finding new ownership.

He said the league has managed to salvage teams just ahead of the annual summer meetings before.

"Sometimes the urgency gets to a point and things happen," he said.

On Tuesday, the Colorado Eagles made official their long-rumored departure to the rival ECHL, following Quad-Cities and teams in Odessa and Rio Grande Valley, Texas, to the sidelines.

Rick Kozuback, whose Global Entertainment Inc., owns the CHL, last week told the Bloomington (Ill.) Pantagraph he expected a roster of 12 to 14 teams from what had been the 18-team CHL last season.

Lewis declined to say Tuesday how many teams have committed to return next season.

"But there are many teams coming back, even some that have been speculated (to be folding or leaving)," he said. "We are still working on some details with people, so I don't want to put numbers out there. It's not the picture that was painted."

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