Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Andy McDonald: sides too close not to consummate deal

Before talks faltered, Blues veteran "was encouraged;" talks resume Wednesday

CHESTERFIELD, Mo. -- After last week's emotional roller coaster that saw National Hockey League Players Association executive director Donald Fehr all but disclose that the players and owners were on the cusp of a breakthrough but get shot down by the National Hockey League before concluding his press conference, it was another black eye against a process seemingly spinning its wheels.

But according to Blues veteran Andy McDonald, who was directly involved in last week's negotiations between players and owners that seemed to gain plenty of footage and shed some daylight on the league's third lockout since 1995, the light at the end of the tunnel is near in the aftermath of Thursday's gloom and doom.

"My impression was when I was there (a week ago) Tuesday, the owners really wanted to get a deal done," said McDonald, one of 19 players and six owners involved in intense negotiations that abruptly broke down after three days in New York. "They (the owners) made some significant steps in our direction. I was encouraged. I thought with what happened on that day, it would lead to a deal.

"I left Wednesday around the Board of Governors meeting and after that, they talked again all day Wednesday and that's when things kind of stalled and slowed down and I guess lost momentum. There's definitely a group over there that wants to get a deal done. I think it's the same with the players. This has just dragged on too long. You only hope there hasn't been too much damage and we can get a deal done in the near future."

What may have looked like a bombshell by the league or a re-enactment of Pearl Harbor to fans and the NHLPA after Fehr's promising declaration that the players were in agreement with many of the issues at hand, it was hard to believe that the league would jump at the PA's new proposal immediately. But a flat-out rejection was hardly expected either.

Or was it?

"We knew that was kind of going to happen," McDonald said, "(But) I thought last week with what happened early on in the week, there would be a good chance it would get done. For whatever reason, things broke off. It's kind of disappointing with the way things broke off. The reality is we're a lot closer than we were two weeks ago. I'm still optimistic something can be done really soon."

After a weekend of cooler heads prevailing, talks between the two sides will once again get started on Wednesday at an undisclosed location. It is believed that the NHLPA will be represented once again by a group of players yet to be determined, and the Fehr's (Donald and Steve) and the NHL will be represented by commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly. U.S. Federal mediators
Scot Beckenbaugh and John Sweeney will also take part in the meeting after being involved with the two sides two weeks ago before declaring they couldn't help the process.

The NHLPA last week requested federal mediators be included again, which prompted Bettman to tell reporters Thursday: "We're not interested in mediation. We went through it a week and a half ago. It was of no value because of the position of the parties."

When the league's stance changed doesn't matter to the players. McDonald is just glad talks will begin again.

"I'm encouraged. We're meeting again," he said. "There was a lot of negativity after things broke down Thursday. We're back at it again (Wednesday). I'm optimistic how close we were last week that there would be a deal. I hope everybody realizes more damage could be caused to the game and it's just not really worth it."

Last week's rejection by the league surrounded three sticking points that required "yes" answers from the union: the length of the collection bargaining agreement (the NHL proposed 10 years with an opt-out after eight; the PA countered with eight years and a six-year opt-out), term limits on contracts maxed out at five years (seven if resigned by current team) and the transition rules to help teams get under the salary cap. The league is proposing 5/7 on those contracts; the PA proposed a flat eight-year max. It's one point that Daly said is "the hill we will die on."

The sides agreed in principal to transition payments, or in simpler terms, the "make whole" dollars on current contracts when the league upped its offer to $300 million (they were previously offering $211 million and the players were looking for $393 million) but that number was contingent on the players agreeing to the aforementioned three points the league is adamant about.

The league this week canceled two more weeks' worth of games through Dec. 30. That means 42.8 percent of the 2012-13 schedule has been wiped out (or 526 regular season games). Fans' restlessness continues to mount, and with all the public banter about how close the sides are from the PA perspective (although Bettman and Daly both refuted that notion Thursday), one can only wonder how to recapture them once all is said and done.

"You just sympathize with them," McDonald said about all hockey fans. "My thing all along is there never should have been any games missed. Owners and players have done so well, there's no reason for it. There's a lot of things that we could have done differently as a union. I think we'll all look back on it, and I think players down the road will learn from it. ... I really feel for the fans. I don't know what to tell them. There never should have been any games missed, but it is what it is. You have to live with it because I'm part of the union.

"Where the league has been revenue-wise ... I know there's a disparity among teams; there's some things that need to be fixed but the players have done really well themselves. Everyone has done great as a result of the sport and there's no reason why any games should have been missed. There's too big a risk and the game was in such a good spot, especially here in St. Louis. It's just a shame it had to get to this."

In the meantime, skates have been conducted on a regular basis at the Hardees Iceplex, and there have been a good number of Blues players as well as fellow NHLers to keep the pace high, brisk and to the point when/if the season begins, players are ready.

"You have no other choice," McDonald said. "You have to keep yourself ready. Obviously there's a physical fit component to it and mentally as well. Personally, you try and set a timeline. Pick a date when you think things will get started and start preparing yourself for that date and try to block out the rest of it.

"There's a lot of negativity, a lot of ups and downs. You just have to focus on trying to control the things you can control. That right now it's preparing, practicing and working out."

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dec. 10 Blues European Update

An update on current St. Louis Blues players competing overseas in various leagues:

Alex Steen, MODO (Sweden): 8 goals, 15 assists in 20 games. He leads the team with 23 points (12th overall in the Swedish Elite League) despite missing eight with a leg injury.

Patrik Berglund, VIK Vasteras (Sweden): 18 goals, 7 assists in 25 games; he is the team leader in goals and is second on the team with 25 points.

Kris Russell, TPS Turku (Finland): 2 goals, 12 assists in 15 games.

Kevin Shattenkirk, TPS Turku (Finland): 1 goal, 4 assists in 5 games after recently leaving North America to go play in Finland's top league, playing on the same defensive pairing with Blues teammate Russell.

Vladimir Tarasenko, SKA St. Petersburg (Russia): "Vova" has 11 goals, 14 assists in 23 games playing alongside fellow NHLer Ilya Kovalchuk.

Chris Stewart, Eispiraten Crimmitschau (Germany): 6 goals, 14 assists in 15 games; Stewart was second on the team in points despite only playing in 15 games. However, Stewart has returned to his native Toronto according to the team's website, presumably awaiting a potential CBA deal.

Matt D'Agostini, SC Riessersie (Germany): 2 goals, 6 assists in 10 games. The eight points are tied for eighth on the team despite playing in less than half the team's games (23).

Vladimir Sobotka, HC Slavia Praha (Czech Republic): 8 goals, 12 assists in 21 games. Sobotka is second on the team in goals and points (20) and was recently invited to play for the Czech Republic national team for the
Channel One Cup, Euro Hockey Tour tournament. However, Sobotka will not be able to participate. He is currently out with a hip injury suffered last Tuesday, according to Slavia Praha's website.

Roman Polak, HC Vitkovice (Czech Republic): 2 goals, 5 assists and 45 penalty minutes in 21 games. Polak is also on the Czech Republic national team roster for the upcoming Channel One Cup. Polak has since returned to action after missing three weeks with an undisclosed injury.

Jaroslav Halak, Lausitzer Fusche (Germany): Halak played in one game and won it for the Foxes via shootout. But he has also since returned to his native Slovakia to handle some personal business and has not returned to Germany in anticipation of a CBA deal in the NHL.

Jori Lehtera, Sibir Novosibirsk (Russia): The Blues' 2008 third round pick has 9 goals, 23 assists (32 points) in 33 games in the KHL.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

For players, it's more than just losing salary

Paving the way for future players, avoiding
lockouts on frequent basis among union's goals

CHESTERFIELD, Mo. -- Alex Pietrangelo is 22 years old and should be in the middle of another year of development.

After last season's springboard that pushed the King City, Ontario native into conversations among top-tiered NHL defensemen, the 2012-13 season should be another towards Pietrangelo's ascension.

But a little something called an NHL lockout is keeping Pietrangelo and the 700 National Hockey League Players Association members from playing games these days. With the work stoppage now in its 75th day and counting, all Pietrangelo -- the fourth pick in 2008 -- has is informal practices with a couple handful of teammates that continue to prepare in case the season can be salvaged.
(Photo by Mark Buckner/St. Louis Blues)
NHL players are losing paychecks now so that players
like the Blues' Alex Pietrangelo (pictured) benefits in the

"I'm skating with guys, I'm keeping my fitness level up, I'm still trying to work as hard as I would during the year," Pietrangelo said Tuesday at the Hardee's IcePlex. "... It definitely is going to be an adjustment for me. Usually this time of year, you're at 20-25 games in. But to have the guys here pushing each other and competing, trying to replicate what we did in the season has been pretty good so far."

With Pietrangelo and fellow NHL players on the cusp of missing out on a fourth paycheck this season, the growing sentiment among fans and even bystanders is do the players think this is worth losing millions of dollars in salary over?

Pietrangelo, who hasn't decided yet whether to head overseas, will one day get a big payday. He's still playing out his entry-level contract, but for the veteran players such as teammates Andy McDonald, Barret Jackman, David Backes and others, as well as the highest paid players in the NHL such as Alex Ovechkin ($9 million) or Sidney Crosby ($7.5 million), it's more than just losing out on salary. There are principles involved, paving the way for the younger generation and for those that aren't even in the NHL yet. It's about making things right and wholesome for today's players as well as the future generation.

"I'm sure a lot of people think it's just stubbornness," said Jackman, who signed a new three-year, $9 million contract over the summer. "There's a lot of money at stake. It's not just our bank accounts that are being hit. There's a lot of ushers, policemen, security (and) local businesses (affected). We do realize that. It's not just something we turn our head at. It's something that's big. It is about the long-term future.

"Obviously we want every team to be viable in the market and we don't want to have to go through this again in 5-7 years. And you do have to protect the guys coming into the league. As (the league has) it right now with contracting rights, you might have four different deals before you have any kind of bargaining and that's something that you have to protect. Guys like Petro, who's one of the best players in the league, he's sitting through this because he's going to be one of those guys hit with the development issue and the ability to earn what he's worked so hard growing up to get."

Jackman knows this all-too-well.

"I've already been through (a lockout in 2004-05) where I lost a lot of money in a year of development, but it was all for what we got in the next round," Jackman said. "This is the same thing. It's not about any individual. We're in a union for a reason to protect everybody within that union. We're going to do our best. When I am 50 years old (and) coaching my kids or following my kids around watching them play hockey, I want them to have the same rights that I did when I played."

The 35-year-old McDonald, who's in the final year of a four-year contract that is supposed to pay him $4.2 million this season, echoed those sentiments.
(Photo by Mark Buckner/St. Louis Blues)
Blues captains (from left) Alex Steen, Jamie Langenbrunner, David Backes,
Andy McDonald and Barret Jackman are sacrificing now for the good of
the game in the future.

"I'm sure I'll look back at it and hopefully I'll feel that I made the right decision or supporting the union for the benefit of the whole, for the benefit of the guys," he said. "That's what I'm trying to do right now because that's what happened in 2004. I was a part of that group. Everyone sat out a year and missed a year of hockey to get those contracting rights that enabled myself to negotiate a deal well over the last eight years. That's the way I'm looking at it.

"It's not easy. With 700 guys, everyone's at different stages. The average career length is five years. When you take one out of the equation, it makes it tough on the players to sit on the sidelines and not give in and sign a deal to get back on the ice right away."

And then there's the 37-year-old Jamie Langenbrunner, who broke into the league in 1994-95. He was not fully into the union during that season's lockout, but he hasfelt the sting of one for the third time. Langenbrunner's signed to a one-year contract, and while nobody can predict when a player feels it's the end of the line, Langenbrunner is at a stage where the end is a lot closer than the beginning.

"It definitely crosses your mind, but I think this time also prepares you for it," said Langenbrunner, winner of two Stanley Cups. "I've gotten involved in coaching the kids' teams. Quite frankly, I've gotten to enjoy that aspect of it. You realize there is going to be an end to this at some point. I've come to enjoy it. It makes me feel when the end does come, I'll be prepared for that.

"It's frustrating for everybody depending on what situation you're in. Speaking for myself, it could be the last year and it's not a lot of fun sitting out like this. On the other hand, I don't think there's any wavering in the way I feel about it. It wasn't our choice to be locked out. We feel like we've given the opportunity for that to be taken care of. It's frustrating, but unfortunately it's what this business has turned into the last 15 years is these fights over stuff that maybe shouldn't be that hard to figure out. We continue to prepare and get ready. As for a guy like Petro, it's a lot harder for him than for me. I have two kids playing hockey. I'm coaching them and enjoying a different part of my life that you miss out while you're playing. I have an escape, so I think it's a lot harder for those guys than it is for a guy like me."

What young players like Pietrangelo have learned more than anything is that they have that much more respect for those that have paved the way for a better future for themselves. That's why they're willing to stand arm-in-arm, because they understand they are the future of the game.

"You have a respect for them," said Pietrangelo, who's fully recovered from bursa sac surgery on his ankle. "Those guys are the guys that try to make it better for us during this CBA. We're going to try and do the same thing.

"We're working for each other. We're a family of 700 players who believe in the same thing. We all want the same thing."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Decertification a strong possibility for NHLPA

Players still want to negotiate CBA, ready to
disband union if faced with no other choice

CHESTERFIELD, Mo. -- After last week's National Hockey League Players Association proposal was predictably shot down by the NHL and its owners, many were left to wonder what's next in the ongoing saga of the labor lockout.

The next move, which could be initiated by the players, would be a significant one.

Some may be familiar with the term "decertification," since it has come up in labor disputes with the NFL and NBA within the last year or so. And now it is a viable option for the NHL's players as well.

Decertification, best described as dissolving of a union and making its players individually responsible for themselves, is a last-resort option for the NHLPA. But after the players were turned down in what they described as "a proposal moving in (the league's) direction," it may be the only way to go in getting the league, A) back to the bargaining table and B) taking the players' stance seriously.

"Probably a nine," Blues veteran Andy McDonald said when asked on a scale of 1-10 if decertification is a serious and viable option. "I don't know what time-frame it is, but I think it's going to be discussed internally with the union and all the players.

"We'll quickly go and file and start the process. Hopefully you can still negotiate while that's still going on and it doesn't come to that, but the guys are frustrated and they want to get back on the ice."

Added fellow veteran Barret Jackman: "If that's the avenue we have to take, we're going to do everything in our power to get back on the ice. If we take it to the courts that possibly ends the lockout, then that's what we have to do. We're hoping it doesn't have to come to that but if it does, that's a serious option for us. It's a 9.5 out of 10 we'll go down that road.

"We're getting all the information about decertification, all the pros and cons."

If the process goes according to the way it did for the NFL and NBA, it might be the only viable means to end the lockout that's in its 74th day today, a lockout that also wiped out the entire 2004-05 season and caused widespread damage to the game for years to come.

In 2011, the NFL and the National Football League Players Association were locked in a contract dispute when the union turned down a proposal by the owners. The union soon voted to decertify. When the lockout became official on March 12, 2011, players like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady filed antitrust lawsuits.

A month later, a judge ruled in favor of the players, but an appeals court overturned that decision in July, making the lockout legal. However, talks resumed, gained traction and the NFL reached a new deal with the union in late July.

In November of 2011, negotiations between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association hit a stalemate as well. The players' union continued down the road that led to decertification. After roughly five months of talks, the breaking of the union and forthcoming lawsuits, it led to heavy and serious bargaining that ultimately led to an agreement and got the NBA season rolling on Dec. 25, 2011.

With decertification, it's a way of making the NHL lockout illegal with no union. The league would be negotiating under antitrust laws rather than common labor law. Players are given the right to file individual lawsuits if they are ready and able to fulfill their contracts.

Blues players who spoke of the issue on Tuesday, reiterated that they'd rather negotiate and get a new Collective-Bargaining Agreement done in good faith, which is why decertification wasn't an option when the lockout began. But after the NHLPA proposed a five-year deal that moved towards the league's plan and was rejected after the PA asked for $393 million "make-whole" dollars in players' current contracts, there might be no other choice.

"Unfortunately, this has now gone the script of the NBA and the NFL," veteran Jamie Langenbrunner said. "They kind of (have) done all the proposals and they've kind of gone by the NBA playbook.

"It seems like we're having to follow suit. We tried to cut a deal, we tried to address their needs and didn't want to push it to this step, but sometimes your hand is forced. If we finally decide to do that, it wasn't from a lack of effort, it wasn't our first move to come out firing like that. We wanted to try and get a deal done and this is more of a last resort type of a thing. I'm sure that process will either happen or not in the very near future."

Langenbrunner was asked if decertification would force the league back to the table.

"On the outside looking in, you would think a lot of these things that we have done forced things back to the table and forced an agreement," he said. "But at every turn, we seem to address their needs that they feel they're lacking. For whatever reason, not once have they wanted to reciprocate that. That's been the most frustrating thing for the players. We're the ones that have bent over at each spot. I think you can only be pushed so far before you're going to start fighting back. Unfortunately, this may be one of those steps that it has to go."

The NHLPA was asking for $393 million over the five-year term, but the league was only willing to go to $211 million, with a difference being $182 million. Two days later, the league canceled games through Dec. 14, also wiping out the All-Star game in Columbus.

"After last Wednesday, I think it was deflating for a lot of guys there in New York," said McDonald, who was one of the NHLPA members present last week. "We had a group there that was pushing Don (Fehr, the PA's Executive Director) to put forth a proposal that was in the league's language. There was an internal debate whether we should do that ... are we still giving back too much. A lot of guys felt that the league might move on some of these other issues if we at least go off of their framework.

"They quickly reviewed our proposal (and) there was not a lot reciprocated on their end. It was real disappointing for the guys that were there because I thought we'd get negotiations going. Now it seems they definitely just want to wait. It's not to say they won't come back off that proposal down the road, but for right now, I don't see what else the players can put forth that would get a deal done. Now there seems to be a lot of guys that want to decertify because everyone wants to get back on the ice. We don't know what other options we have."

One option the two sides agreed upon is to get federal mediators involved. It's an opportunity for a third party to listen, gain perspective and offer fresh ideas to potentially help in the negotiating process. It's a move that was present in 2004-05 but did not stop a season being lost. Those meetings took place in Mid-February of 2005, trying a last-ditch effort to save the season. However, any ideas at this point to speed up the process is a welcomed tool since it is late November.

"I hope it's a third party ... someone who gives a different opinion objectively," McDonald said. "Maybe it sparks an idea, but at this point, that person really has no power.

"We need more of an arbitrator in there than a mediator. I don't think that's going to happen, but we definitely have to explore all options. If a mediator helps just a little bit, then it will all be well worth it."

Added Jackman: "If a mediator can come in there and put a second thought into one side or the other's head, it's worth a shot right now. We don't want to lose a season without exhausting every avenue."

Which is why McDonald is still among those that is sticking to his guns -- there will be hockey this season and that the $182 million gap can be compromised.

"The sides are just too close to let the season go," McDonald said. "(NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman came out and said the league's losing (up to) $20 million a day and he canceled two weeks of hockey ... the math doesn't seem to add up. Losing a year over this would be so detrimental to the game. There's already been, in my opinion, a severe backlash by the fans really being disappointed with what's happened and deservingly so. I think both sides will realize we're too close together to throw the year away. We need to find a deal that works."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Charity game to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy

Former Blue Janssen, current St. Louis players, other
NHLers helping support those in need in wake of devastating storm

CHESTERFIELD, Mo. -- In the aftermath of the natural devastation that was uncontrollably forced on the east coast recently, Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was immediately on his cell phone inquiring about his family.

Raised within driving distance from the areas ripped apart by the super storm known as Hurricane Sandy, Shattenkirk's focus quickly zeroed in on loved ones around the New York area.

"My parents (Pat and Barbara) lost power for about four or five days. My oldest brother (Eric) lives in Hoboken (an area that was one of the most affected by the storm)," Shattenkirk said. "He was out of his apartment for eight or nine days before he could even go back. No flooding or anything. We were fortunate that nothing major happened and didn't have anyone else in our family be affected too bad.

"Fortunately, I was able to call my parents (who live 15 minutes outside New York City). They had their cell phones and stuff. Same thing with my brother. I was happy to know he was out of his apartment. He couldn't even get back to his apartment in time before the curfew in Hoboken."

There were several thousands -- if not millions -- affected by the devastation that the storm -- spanning 1,100 miles -- left behind. It affected eight countries but none more so than the United States, specifically the east coast. Estimates are at $50 billion in damages across the areas affected in the US alone, and the Blues are doing their part -- no matter how small it may or may not seem -- to try and help out as much as they can.

Former Blue, native St. Louisan and current New Jersey Devil Cam Janssen, who has a home in New Jersey that was affected by the storm, quickly brainstormed a charity hockey game that will in essence benefit those in the region directly. It will take place Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Hardees IcePlex in Chesterfield. For more information, click the link here (
The game will feature Blues players Shattenkirk, Andy McDonald, Barret Jackman, David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, Brian Elliott, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Nichol as well as former Blues Ty Conkin, Jamal Mayers, Janssen, Calgary Flames player and Kirkwood native Chris Butler and others.

General admission tickets are just $20 and there are also VIP tickets, which are $200 and they include VIP entrance and seating, beer and wine, and admission into the after party. Only 100 VIP tickets are available. There is also a silent auction up for bidding to be a team coach. The highest bidder will meet each team's players personally and spend the game on the ice with his/her team.

For Janssen, it was a no-brainer for the idea despite little time to plan accordingly.

"I've been working so hard ... day in and day out on this thing," Janssen said. "I didn't have that much time to put it together. It's stressful, but it's going to be a great cause. It's going to be well-put together and the fans are really going to enjoy it.

"Having a house up there and being a part of the east coast, living out there and knowing people and friends and teammates out there, you see this monster of a storm come through and to see this thing from scratch out in the Atlantic (Ocean) or down in the south and it blew up and destroyed the east coast ... it's a scary thing. People aren't used to this kind of thing up there, and there's nowhere to go. It's such a dense population up there."

It's unfortunate that it came at the expense of a natural tragedy, but for at least one night, it gives hockey enthusiasts a chance to see the game, with the NHL in the midst of a prolonged lockout that has left a bad taste in fans' mouths once again.

"It certainly makes the lockout sound really ridiculous when you think of how well the NHL's done and how well the players have done over the years," McDonald said. "It does put everything in perspective. Hat's off to Jantz for putting something together.

"Jantz had brought it up back when the storm was coming through. He obviously has ties there, and he definitely brought it to everybody's attention that we should get together and do something important like this. It's a lot of work organizing something like this. But I know the guys fully back Jantz and think it's a great idea."

Shattenkirk agreed.

"Talking to a couple people back home, a couple coaches ... they're trying to organize something there," Shattenkirk said. "There just wasn't enough guys around the area to get something going. Once Jantz kind of came up with this idea and started bringing it to fruition, it was something we all jumped on board. Especially to me, it was pretty special to do and be a part of.

"It's amazing when you read articles and see what's happening back in the area, the type of support that's being handed around. People are helping complete strangers out."

Janssen wants to make perfectly clear that the intention is not to just bring any game to the table but one that will be competitive and worth every cent people bring with them. The focus is to help those in need but to also provide area fans with something worthwhile.

"Instead of a recreational or beer league game ... no, I don't want that," Janssen said. "Fans haven't seen a fast-paced, skilled hockey game in a long time with professionals. They haven't. They're craving to see an NHL-caliber game. I'm trying to make that as realistic as possible.

"I just wanted to think of something we could do. We have a lot of guys in town. ... Now that it's a reality, it's a pretty cool thing."

As far as dollar amounts, whatever the game can bring in will be worth the effort. As Shattenkirk said, "Every little bit counts. As cliche as it sounds, if everyone donates a little bit here and there, it all adds up to a bigger picture."

Janssen added: "We were thinking about that, but if it makes somewhat of a difference, then that's all that matters. If people enjoy themselves and they feel happy where their money went ... if it helps those places out a little bit, then we did our job."

And for the players involved, it's a few hours spent not thinking about empty NHL arenas.

"I'm excited to play a game," McDonald said. "We're restricted on numbers here and in practice, you can do as much as you can but we don't have enough guys to play a real game. It'll be fun to do that Saturday night. There's a little buildup to it. It's a good chance to get out and see fans and play a game of hockey."

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Playing in Europe easy for some, not so for others

Blues veterans don't appear ready to bolt; McDonald
said decision should be easy for younger teammates

CHESTERFIELD, Mo. -- If the current NHL lockout has a prolonged effect to it, veteran Blues forward Andy McDonald feels he has a wise piece of advice for some of his younger teammates.

"I encourage all of our younger players to go play," the 35-year-old McDonald said recently.

When McDonald, a veteran of 11 NHL seasons, says "go play," he's unfortunately talking about a last resort. That last resort would be to go play overseas in Europe, whether it be the KHL in Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic, Switzerland, anyplace where the hockey is competitive.

With the lockout -- in full effect since Sept. 16 -- now running into November and on the verge of wiping out the annual Winter Classic and on the cusp of eliminating the all-star game in Columbus, there seems to be no end in sight despite players staying positive that a deal can be reached.

(Getty Images)
Andy McDonald will not be uprooting his family for the
chance to play in Europe should the NHL lockout last.
The Blues already have eight players performing in rinks all across Europe. With Alex Steen and Patrik Berglund (Sweden), Chris Stewart, Roman Polak and Vladimir Sobotka (Czech Republic), Kris Russell (Finland), Matt D'Agostini (Germany) and Vladimir Tarasenko (Russia), they are well-represented on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Blues, who have had regulars on a consistent basis working out and skating at the Hardees IcePlex, have been represented well in their informal skates. There have been a number of veterans skating with McDonald, Scott Nichol, Jamie Langenbrunner, Barret Jackman, David Backes and Brian Elliott as well as a younger core of players, including T.J. Oshie, Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo and even David Perron, who trained here last week.

The opportunity to play hockey overseas in case nothing transpires here weighs heavily for all players but for different reasons. McDonald said it's much easier for those younger guys to just pick up and go. And if he were one of them, the choice would be an easy one.

"You get to play games, you get to be on a regular schedule, regular practice, but you also want to make sure you're playing at a high level," said McDonald, who's married with two young children that he would have to consider uprooting. "Taking a step back and playing at a level that's not going to help your game ... you've got to weigh all the benefits. There's also the risk of injury. There's a lot of things to consider, but for the younger players who don't have the families and uproot and take kids out of school, this might be a good opportunity to go and play hockey and keep yourself ready.

"Last time around, I had a girlfriend and went over there with no responsibilities. Now I have two kids and they're the priority. I'm certainly not going to take my kids out of school and run across to Europe to play hockey. I'm kind of weighing all the options."

For those that haven't made the decision to head across the Atlantic yet, a lot of it has to do with remaining hopeful that they'll be suiting up in an arena near NHL fans soon.

"Some guys are just a little more patient with it than others," Shattenkirk said. "Some guys just need to play right away. ... Some guys just feel like let's go over there, get the games and when it comes back, it comes back.

"To be dead-honest, if I was home right now with two or three guys skating, I think the motivation factor would be very hard. Being here (in St. Louis) with guys on your team, there's definitely an accountability factor. We're all in this together. (The NHL) could come back tomorrow, it could come back in three months. We want to make sure we're at least trying to get better every day and keeping ourselves prepared."

However, the element of the unknown is what makes a decision so difficult.

"I think that's the hardest part for everybody," said Pietrangelo, who's rehabbing ankle surgery after having a bursa sac removed. "We don't have a date yet for when it's going to start or stop. To go over there now, anything can turn around in a hurry.

"There's still a lot of things to take into consideration. You're picking up and going over there and there's the potential of having a season soon. You never know when it could happen. It's definitely a possibility. I think everybody's kind of got it in the back of their mind right now."

But the thought of going to Europe is intriguing on more levels than just playing hockey.

"For a guy in my position, you can almost kind of look at it as a life experience to get over there and play in front of a foreign crowd and a different style of hockey," Shattenkirk said. "... As a young player, at least having that option to do it, if it's going to be a long-term deal with this lockout, it's something you can make the most of if you go over there.
(Getty Images)
For a player that's not married and with no kids, the choice to go to Europe
is a bit easier for Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (right).

"... We love the game. The fans are different over there. They're crazy. They love their hockey, just the same as here. It's a completely different experience. But I think at the same time, you have to weigh it out and make sure you don't go somewhere where it's not going to be quality hockey. You have to make sure you're putting yourself in a good position."

Nichol, Langenbrunner, Jackman and Backes all are married and they have kids to consider except Backes. None seem to be in a rush to jump across the ocean anytime soon. But if this lockout extends well into 2013, it's an option some may have no choice but to accept.

"For me, I'm going to wait here a little longer and make sure my ankle feels the way it needs to be, but definitely the thought's been there," Pietrangelo said. "When the time comes, I'll have to decide."

"There's positives and negatives to looking at it both ways," McDonald said. "The positives are your family is going, you expose your kids to a different culture, different schools.

"Speaking personally, I think it's important for my family to be here and be in school here. As bad as I want to go over and play, at this time I'm not going to take my kids out of school and go to Europe. ... You want to keep it in the back of your mind if this thing goes the whole year. How are you going to stay ready? How are you going to keep yourself, your mind in it to come back next year and play and be ready? Are you getting enough in St. Louis practice-wise that's keeping you at a level that's high enough to play in the NHL when that starts? These are all things to consider."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Perron surprises teammates, joins them at informal skates

Winger in town skating this week, would like to
make move permanent pending CBA talks

CHESTERFIELD, Mo. -- The usual cast that has been encapsulated inside the Hardees IcePlex for more than a month now, because the National Hockey League lockout is in its sixth week, took in a surprising new member this week

That same cast, which includes David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, Andy McDonald, Kevin Shattenkirk, Barret Jackman, Scott Nichol, Jamie Langenbrunner, Brian Elliott (who is not here this week) as well as hometown players who play for other NHL franchises, welcomed David Perron into the foray this week.

Perron, who has been laying low and working out in his hometown Sherbrooke, Quebec, is back in St. Louis ... and his teammates were glad to have him here even though they were not aware he would be joining them.

"Yeah, it's fun to come in and check on everything and see the guys," Perron said, who got in town in time to join the workouts on Monday. "It's been a while. Coming into the room, it was like 15 minutes before practice and some of them didn't expect me to be there. I talked to Backes before. I don't know if he told everyone, but it was kind of nice to just come in and see everyone again."

Perron, who was also in St. Louis over the summer working out with Blues prospects in order to get himself better prepared for a 2012-13 season that nobody knows whether it will take place or not, would love nothing more than to make it a permanent stay.

"I think we all want to play," said Perron, who has remained relatively quiet as far as negotiations with the Collective Bargaining Agreement. "That's the main thing we want to do. But at the end of the day, there's the business side of things we've got to take care of. It's not the best part. That's not why we play, but at the same time, we've got to deal with it accordingly and in the right way. That's why we listen to the older guys.

"I think everyone has been really supportive of Don Fehr and the NHLPA. We've got to keep on going that way until it gets resolved."

Perron, who scored 42 points in 57 games last season after returning from a concussion suffered early in the 2010-11 season, worked extensively throughout the summer to help himself be 100 percent ready both mentally and physically for the upcoming campaign. But with the uncertainty of a season, the extra time to prepare hasn't really been all that beneficial.

"I don't know. I was ready by September," Perron said. "I think this last little while has actually been tough training-wise because you just don't know what's going to happen. Are you going to be like this the whole year, are you going to be like this a month, two months? It's just tough to figure out. I think for the most part, you can't stay on the ball for too long because you don't want the season to get started and be tired mentally."

Perron did play in a game earlier this month in his hometown as part of The Players' Tour, or in the French version: La Tournee des Joueurs. It is part of a series of charitable exhibition games pitting NHL players from the Montreal area against those from the Quebec City region, started by Philadelphia Flyers' Bruno Gervais and Max Talbot.

"I just played one game for different reasons, insurance-wise and stuff," Perron said. "But it's good to kind of see the guys getting together for charity.

"The game that I played was pretty unbelievable in my hometown ... 4,000 people in the rink was full in the junior rink up there. The whole thing around that was pretty special. For me to play in my hometown was fun, too."

If there is no end in sight to the NHL labor strife, Perron has indicated that he will not be -- at least for the time being -- part of a cast of players that have either headed overseas or will be going soon in order to play.

"I'll keep waiting and see, but I think I'm just going to stick around," Perron said. "I think my training has been really good. Obviously it's tough. I was really ready when September 15 came around for training camp. Once the NHL lockout came, you can't stay on that same intensity for too long because you'll get mentally tired and physically. I kind of backed off a little bit for the last little while. Now I'm trying to get back up to where I was and hopefully it will get started soon."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Kevin Shattenkirk, Andy McDonald respond to NHL proposal

Blues' player rep calls latest league offer "meaningful"

ST. LOUIS -- Blues defenseman and player rep Kevin Shattenkirk along with veteran forward Andy McDonald talk about the latest proposal by the NHL that could be the start of fruitful negotiations and could ultimately lead to the end of the NHL lockout that began Sept. 16.

If negotiations can get done over the next 7-10 days, the idea is that a full 82-game NHL season can be salvaged and begin play on Nov. 2.

Some key points that came from today's league offer, based off reports:

* The NHL has offered a 50-50 share of HRR (Hockey Related Revenue).

* Free agency for players would begin at 28 years of age, or after eight years of service.

* Entry-level contracts would drop from three years to two years.

* Revenue sharing would be roughly at $200 million.

*Length of contracts would max out at five years.

* Arbitration would still exist after league initially offered to eliminate it.

Here are Shattenkirk's comments and initial thoughts on today's developments:

What are your initial thoughts on today's proposal?
I think there's a lot of meaningful things we can take out of this. We really have to be happy that the NHL has brought something to the table and hopefully it's a starting point over the next 7-10 days here that we can negotiate from. I really think it shows that they're making a move and making an effort in our direction in showing that they're bargaining in good faith and that we can work to get something done here in the next couple days.

Fans seem to be really fired up about making traction based off today's league proposal. Do the players want them to be cautiously optimistic or how would you term their enthusiasm?
That's probably a great term to use for it (being cautiously optimistic). I think just in hearing the details of it, what's going to be pressed is the 50-50 split and then the rollback. I think it's important to get all the facts. There's more to it than just those two points, but it's definitely a good starting point hopefully and hopefully if and when we make our counter-proposal, that the NHL doesn't immediately say, 'That's it. That's what we're offering and if you guys don't take it, you guys are out of it and that's all you're getting.'

Do you feel like if this sort of proposal was made 2-3 months ago, there would be hockey today?
I'd like to think so. I'd like to think that if those initial two proposals for them weren't given out, maybe if we started at more of a middle ground from what we were offering that things would be done sooner. But it's so hard to say. I think what happens is they've taken a lot of what we offered under consideration. Whether we would have gotten to this point sooner by starting sooner, who knows. I think it definitely shows that the NHL is taking what we're saying into consideration and vice versa. I think with this move, the ball's in our court and it's time to see what we do with it and where it goes from here.

Are there still concerns that remain after looking at this latest proposal or do you feel like you can bridge the gaps and get something done?
I don't think there's anything ridiculous like we saw in the first proposal that they offered us. That just made us completely shake our heads and dismiss it. I think there's obviously plenty of points there that we feel we can improve on. But I feel like that they've come towards us in those areas and I feel like we can definitely now work from there and meet somewhere and get it done.

McDonald talks specifically about HRR and revenue sharing:

Report on NHL wanting to change the definition of HRR:
What we've been told is that they want to 'clarify' it, but they haven't given any detail about what that means. You've got to suspect that that means they want to reduce it somehow, or redefine it somehow. So obviously we have to be given a more detailed explanation, so we know exactly what we're talking about.

Did the NHL address revenue sharing?

I think they've made an effort to kind of move in our direction with revenue sharing. I think our concern is making sure that the teams that are getting the money ... are doing more than just getting the money ... they're doing something that can grow the game. I think it's a positive that they've addressed the revenue sharing.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Instead of opening season, uncertainlty remains in NHL

Lockout moves into fourth week, talks to resume
Wednesday; D'Agostini latest Blue to sign in Europe

CHESTERFIELD -- Instead of practicing the final few days before departing to Denver for the season-opener Thursday, T.J. Oshie and a few handful of teammates and NHL players were once again left to fend for themselves.

Despite being on its own, the National Hockey League Players Association continues its unified stance against the owners. And because it is entrenched in that unified stance, instead of talking about opening night taking place Thursday for the Blues in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche, the talk is still surrounding the uncertainty of an NHL season and the lockout that has it on hold.
(Photo by Mark Buckner/St. Louis Blues)
Instead of building being filled to capacity, NHL arenas will sit empty, like
Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The NHL season was to open Thursday but
will not because of a second lockout in eight years.

Oshie, David Backes, Andy McDonald, Barret Jackman, Kevin Shattenkirk, Matt D'Agostini, Alex Pietrangelo, Brian Elliott, Jamie Langenbrunner and Scott Nichol are still skating together at the Hardees IcePlex, along with St. Louis natives Ben Bishop (Ottawa), Chris Butler (Calgary) and Cam Janssen (New Jersey). It's their way of staying up to par when/if the NHL and NHLPA consummate a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and the season can be salvaged.

"I think reality kind of set in after the New York meetings I went to (recently)," Oshie said Tuesday. "After that, I kind of realized what we're dealing with and what's going on.

"It sucks, but we want to play under a fair deal that's fair for both sides. We're just waiting and hopefully we don't lose too much of the season."

Until then, former Blues defenseman Jeff Brown and Jamie Rivers are running the workouts and the players continue their unified stance.

"We're unified just as much as (the owners) are," said D'Agostini, who left for Germany Tuesday night after signing a contract to play with SC Reissersee of 2-Bundesliga. "That's why it's not moving anywhere now. It's good for us. We're not giving into the outrageous demands. We're staying firm.

"If they see more and more of us taking off for Europe, I think the owners will start panicking, too, because I'm sure they don't want to lose a full season just as much as we don't either. We'll see how it all unfolds."

Despite the ongoing tug of war between the owners and players, hockey fans are suffering most and will be heard from even more when the realization finally hits that a puck won't drop Thursday. The Blues, Avalanche, Boston, Philadelphia, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver were all set to unveil the 2012-13 season. The league has already canceled games from Oct. 11-24, 82 games in all. It will slice more games off the schedule as time marches on without an agreement.

"As much as (fans) enjoy watching hockey, as much as they enjoy coming to games and rooting on their hometown teams, we love playing hockey that much more," Oshie said. "We want to get out there. We just feel that we can't do that and we won't do that until there's something fair on the table for both sides."

As for D'Agostini, he joins Alex Steen and Patrik Berglund (Sweden), Chris Stewart (Germany), Vladimir Sobotka and Roman Polak (Czech Republic) and Vladimir Tarasenko (Russia) as Blues playing overseas. Kris Russell signed to play in Finland but has since returned after suffering a lower-body injury, believed to be a knee. But D'Agostini feels like this could be a consistent trend in the coming weeks for the players, particularly if the ones still here don't feel like there's traction being made with the CBA.

"I think people will start signing more and more in the next few weeks," he said. "They realize we might be waiting around for a while.

"I just want to play some games and get back into game shape so when we do settle this, I'll be ready to go. It's a good experience to kind of not jump all over, go to Germany and experience that type of game and play some hockey games. There were other options, but my agent is really close with this team and he's dealt with them before. I'm excited about going there. He told me all about it. It's a nice little town. People will treat me like one of their own."
(Photo by Mark Buckner/St. Louis Blues)
Matt D'Agostini (36) is the latest Blue to jump overseas to play during the
NHL lockout, agreeing to play for SC Reissersee of 2-Bundesliga.

The two sides are expected to meet Wednesday in New York. Non-core economic issues are slated to be topics of discussion. But will it also be the beginning of something meaningful as far as discussions on the core economic issues? Time will tell. But in the meantime, the reality of missing games is already being felt, as the entire preseason was wiped out, and now the regular season will begin to follow suit.

"It's really setting in," D'Agostini said. "... I'd just like to get back into the swing of things, start getting my head focused again, to get back into the routine of playing some games again. Hopefully it will get me turned around.

"I'm not too certain on how long it will last but from what I hear, it sounds like it will (last). It doesn't sound like they're getting anywhere too fast. I don't want to be sitting at home thinking about it anymore."

Added Oshie: "Right now, it seems like the owners are holding strong ... I wasn't around for the last lockout but it sounds like it's going in that direction for them. The differences I hear from players -- especially the older players and veterans -- is that all the players are together this time. We're all under one voice. That obviously has to do with (NHLPA Executive Director) Don Fehr and what he's done. ... He wants to get us the best deal possible that's fair. He keeps reiterating for us to stick together. The boys have been. That's great. I think that's the biggest thing how unified we are as a union.

"All I know is we're sticking together right now. We're holding out for something that's fair."

And fans just keep holding out ... holding out for the game to come back.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Blues, Davidson officially part ways

Team's President of Hockey Operations can walk away with head held high

ST. LOUIS -- John Davidson and the Blues are parting ways, probably sooner than the 59-year-old had hoped or expected.

Davidson, the Blues' President of Hockey Operations since 2006, has mutually agreed to a buyout of the remaining three years of his contract, which still had roughly $6 million remaining on it. He originally agreed to a four-year, $8 million extension in the summer of 2010.

Terms of the buyout were not disclosed, and Davidson said he has no immediate plans regarding his future.

(Getty Images)
The Blues went from the bottom of the NHL to
being among the top teams last season in John
Davidson's seven-year tenure  as President of
Hockey Operations.

Often times in these circumstances, when parties go their own separate ways typically means the two sides only agree that they're better off without each other. However this situation is the exception to the rule.

Davidson was hired by the previous ownership group, led by Dave Checketts, on June 30, 2006 to revitalize a franchise that had seemingly become disconnected with its fan base.

The Blues were fresh off a last place finish in the NHL (21-46-15) coming out of a lockout year, and Davidson instantly became the face of the franchise.

But with economic times tough on many of the smaller market franchises around the league, the Blues have been forced to reduce costs after reportedly losing $20 million a season ago, and new chairman Tom Stillman, who led a group in purchasing the team from Checketts this past summer, had to make concessions somewhere along the line.

Davidson understands the Blues are in a financial situation where costs need to be cut, and unfortunately, his contract was one area that needed to be eliminated.

"There's no animosity at all," Davidson said. "When you see new ownership purchasing something like a sports club, there's always going to be change. Tom and I have had a number of discussions. It took a while, but we found some common ground in our discussions ... we chatted about expenses and contracts and we just came to a conclusion that my contract would be a burden on the club. We worked something out where we're both satisfied with. It takes the burden off the team financially. It allows me to find something somewhere else, depending on what I want to do.

"It's just business. It is. It's a tough time to leave. We really enjoy St. Louis, very much so in every aspect."

Stillman acknowledged that this has nothing to do with Davidson's work. It was all about economics.
"He has done a great job here, so it’s certainly nothing about his work," Stillman said. "But, as you know, we are working to get our business, our financial house in order. We feel the organization was bloated and our expenses were way out of line. And we have to marshal our resources so that we can focus on continuing to put a winning, contending team on the ice. That’s what this is all about.

"The management team recognizes all of that, including JD. And JD is a good man, a real professional, a true Blue. So he worked with us like a pro, and I think we arrived at something that helps the Blues franchise and is fair to everyone involved. I salute him for working it out in a way that helps the Blues. JD is a good man."

When John Davidson took over, it was a task of trying to rebuild a proud franchise.

Davidson, fresh from his television analyst job with Madison Square Garden, was faced with a tremendous challenge.

Seven years later, the Blues are among the league's best after a season ago finishing with 49 wins. They did it by building from within and going with one of Davidson's famous lines of "Come grow with us," which he used to help lure Blues fans back into the building.

"His savvy, his connections, his ability to connect with people is remarkable," Blues captain David Backes said. "He'll still have that wherever he goes or whatever endeavor he finds next. It'll be big shoes to fill for whoever tries to jump in them.

"The position that we're in now compared to when he got here the year before me and since I've been here, it's been phenomenal. It's definitely been aided by his work, his efforts ... not just the work he does around the arena but it's heartfelt with all the work he does with the animal rescue stuff. He's got the same sort of jungle running around his house that I do. It's sad to see him not be part of the Blues and the St. Louis community anymore, but a great man and hopefully we can find somebody that can pick up the slack."

The team went from the bottom of the NHL to finishing with the second-most points in the league last season (109) before bowing out in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs to eventual champion Los Angeles. During his tenure, the Blues made two postseason appearances (2009, 2012), won the Central Division championship a season ago and experienced a revival in the community that saw their average attendance rise from 12,520 (30th) in 2006-07 to 18,809 (9th) in 2011-12.

"We went through where we had 6,000 people in the building for a long time, but they were the best 6,000 you'll ever find, because they were there through the thick and the thin," Davidson said. "They stayed with us and the crowds grew."

Davidson, who was a goalie during his playing career, was a first-round pick of the Blues in 1973, where he played for two seasons before being traded to the Rangers. He would finish out his abbreviated career there before moving over to the Rangers' broadcast booth for the next three decades with Sam Rosen.

"There's a lot of guys that learned a lot from JD," said Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. ... It's tough to see a guy like that go. He's the one that brought me here. I know there's a few guys that have been here since he's been here, so it's a bit of a change for us.

"Any time you develop a relationship with somebody, it's tough to see him go, whether it's a player or someone in management."

Davidson met with the Columbus Blue Jackets over the summer regarding an undisclosed position but nothing ever came of that situation. It's the only opportunity that has opened up outside the Blues organization to this point. And whatever lies ahead for Davidson, he doesn't know at this point.

"I don't know. I really don't know," he said. "I've talked to Columbus once, with permission, and it was a good discussion. Other than that, I haven't talked to anyone.

"I'm not saying anything in any aspect yet, whether it be television or management or whatever. I'm just going to try to discover whatever I try to do next (and) it won't be retirement. It'll be the right thing for myself and my family."

Under Davidson, the Blues have molded a surplus of talent, including drafting Pietrangelo, Backes, T.J. Oshie and David Perron as well as No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson. The Blues also acquired notable players Alex Steen, Andy McDonald, Jaroslav Halak, Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart and the right to trade for a draft pick in which the Blues took Vladimir Tarasenko, as well as brought in experienced coaches like Ken Hitchcock and Andy Murray.

Davidson can walk away with his head held high despite not being here for the climax.

"Now, it's got a chance," Davidson said of the Blues' chances of succeeding. "This club is standing at third base and you see home plate. You've got to get to home plate. This team's got a shot at it. I feel very proud of that, being a part of a group that put that together.

"I'm going to be a big fan, I'm going to watch because I know how hard they're going to be to beat now. It'll be interesting to see where they go. They're in good hands. Doug will do a good job. I just hope the puck gets dropped pretty soon because this team's ready to go. The coaching staff's an excellent staff, it's a great staff. ... This is a complete organization. It's solid. I like that it's in a great place. It's got a shot to be in the upper echelon. You have a window that's open for a certain time, and the window is wide open for this club now. We'll see where it goes. I feel very proud to be a part of that group."