Thursday, September 27, 2012

Blues players say NHLPA is strong, unified

There's hope season can be salvaged, skaters unsure
CHESTERFIELD, Mo. -- They came off the ice wearing their brand new National Hockey League Players Association jerseys. Some sported black ones, some in white and some in gray.

The NHLPA logo on their chests are big and bright, but on the left crest were in bold letters "#THE PLAYERS."

But for members of the Blues along with a handful of fellow NHL players from St. Louis that continue to skate on their own while the owners are locking players out, they continue to keep in shape and hone their skills in case one day -- any day -- they all wake up and the only game they know is back.
(Getty Images)
Blues' Barret Jackman (5) and Kevin Shattenkirk (right) are part of the team
training in St. Louis during the lockout.

"You can't really forget that ... right now you'd rather be gearing up for a preseason game getting ready for the season," Blues defenseman and team player rep Kevin Shattenkirk said after today's players-only informal skate at the Hardees IcePlex. "This is where the patience starts to come in and you really have to stay focused and really just be ready to be called upon at any time."

Nobody knows when that will be, but for the time being, the NHLPA is unified in its stance against the owners, who feel like they're paying the players too much money. The players see it otherwise in a game that has grown in not only popularity since the 2004-05 forgotten season but also in revenue as well.

Instead of playing their third preseason game in as many nights Thursday in Minnesota, the Blues were renting out their own ice time but doing so as part of a larger unit.

"The players are definitely unified," veteran forward Andy McDonald said. "We had our meetings a few weeks back in New York and the guys are aware of the issues and want a different system going forward. I don't see the players changing their stance at this point. We're willing to negotiate and get a deal, but we want a different system so we don't have the same problem when this next deal gets done.

"We try and stay positive and think things are going to get done quickly and we'll be back playing games, having training camp and getting into the regular season. You try not to get too down about it. You certainly try to keep yourself ready for when it does get done."

For younger players like Alex Pietrangelo, who's rehabbing his surgically-repaired ankle in which he had a bursa sac removed, staying mentally strong comes from a veteran presence that has been through the mental and physical wars of a lockout.

"We're lucky to still have a few guys around here," Pietrangelo said. "We have a pretty good group that are keeping each other company. Everyone's staying in shape. We're lucky we have guys who are competing with each other here. We're able to kind of stay in form.

"It's a tough thing to go through right now. It's the first time for me, but luckily we've got the older guys around here that are kind of guiding all of us through it and how to treat it."

Staying positive may be the only leverage the players have at present time. The stalemate has already canceled the entire league's preseason and now threatens to go beyond into the regular season, which is supposed to begin Oct. 11 for the Blues in Colorado.

As Shattenkirk said it, being locked out and not having access to team-owned facilities is a way to try and break the players' union down.

"It definitely worked for them last time," Shattenkirk said of the owners. "Why wouldn't they at least try something along the same lines?

"Hearing from guys involved in the last lockout, it seems much more cordial than the last negotiations. Just the fact that they're meeting (Friday) to keep negotiations open, I think, is great and I think both sides have been ... at least open to any ideas and listening and trying to maybe keep the talks going as much as possible. Maybe there's something reached eventually."

That "eventually" could be today, could be tomorrow, next week, next month or unfortunately for everyone involved -- next year or longer. The players are prepared for whatever happens.

"I think it's definitely a possibility," Shattenkirk said when asked if the lockout could go the entire season. "I think we're (the players) definitely not going to give in and take something that's unfair. It's upsetting for us because we know there's plenty of people affected by this, especially more than us. I think right now it's a matter of really fighting for what we believe is right."
(Getty Images)
These were happier times for (from left to right)
Patrik Berglund, Jason Arnott and Andy McDonald
and the Blues.

The players believed in what was right in 2005 and eventually conceded. But this time around, they're dug in with claws firmly entrenched.

"Don has done a great job this summer really preparing us for this and keeping everyone informed, which I think is important," Shattenkirk said of player union chief Don Fehr. "We've kind of been collectively talking to each other as teams and making sure that everyone's up to date on everything. That has kept everyone unified together through this whole process.

"It's definitely going to hurt the game. There are a lot of people out there who are really disgusted by this and really frustrated over it. I see the reason. ... This is something we don't want to have come around every six or seven years. Hopefully, people that are turned off to it, we can win them back and get the game popularized again like it has been the last six or seven years."

But when can this game be "popularized" again? There seem to be mixed feelings on when that time will be.

"It's tough to say," Shattenkirk said. "I'd like to say there's definitely going to be a season, but you really can't say that. They missed a year in 2004-05. I'm sure guys thought it would be resolved sooner than that. But I think it's promising that they're keeping negotiations open and there hasn't been anything where the sides have said we're (holding off on) this for now and we're waiting it out."

McDonald, who at 35 was part of the last lockout, was more optimistic when asked if he felt like there will be a 2012-13.

"I do. I really do," he said. "At some point, both sides will get a deal done and this will all be behind us."

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