Wednesday, August 29, 2012

For Blues veterans, lockout not a good feeling

Jackman: missing 2004-05 season was "devastating"

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- As much as the percentages seem to be against the upcoming NHL season starting on time, there are a few simple reasons why the players' union continues to preach positive thoughts rather than think lockout.

Call it cautious optimism. Particularly from those that have been around the game and know the helpless and empty feeling of what the 2004-05 lockout, which resulted in an entire season that was wiped out which resulted in the league needed an imaging overhaul with its product and its fan base.

"I was absolutely devastated the last time it happened," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said referring to the last lockout. "I played my first year (in 2002-03) and then I was hurt all my second year and then what was supposed to be my third year, we were locked out.

(Getty Images)
Barret Jackman was "devastated" the last time there was
an NHL lockout eight years ago.
"Back then it was a little different scenario. There were a lot of teams that were hurting. Unfortunately, it took too long to make significant cuts to the payroll. The league has grown since then and it's a thriving business. We realize there are some teams that at the bottom are kind of struggling, teams like Phoenix and a couple teams in Florida. ... It's tough to sit by and watch hockey take the beating it is but hopefully this isn't a long-term thing and we'll get going."

NHLPA and most of its members fully understood they could lose an entire year and players quickly made arrangements to play overseas in Europe back then.

The players are more equipped and fully prepared for a worst-case scenario this time around, but there's a growing sentiment still floating around that something will in fact get done, even as late as the final hour when the current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire on Sept. 15.

"I find it as a different feel, the last (lockout) to this one," veteran center Scott Nichol said. "I think both sides are really adament to get things going, get it resolved and quicker.

"The last lockout ... looking back now, guys were taking off for Europe relatively early. Not here and now. Guys are really unified and hunkered in to start the season and everyone's status quo and coming into their respective cities and getting things going."

The two sides, albeit getting a late start in negotiations, are talking and trying to hammer out a dialogue and finding common ground. But eight years ago, those negotiations -- or lack thereof -- were a road that led to an entire season being wiped out before common sense prevailed.

"I just remember the meetings throughout the summer were very negative and guys were just asking the very worst case scenarios," Jackman said. "Now with all the meetings that are going on, it seems like guys are asking the right questions.

"We're very optimistic. We're going to go in, everybody's going to plan on starting the season. We have a great group of people that are heading the union. A lot of guys involved, a lot more than we had the last time. We're educated and we know what's at stake."

Jamie Langenbrunner, a veteran entering his 18th NHL season and second with the Blues, said the sooner an agreement gets done, the better it is for everyone involved. Then the players can map out a plan of training and when to expect to play games.

(Getty Images)
Jamie Langenbrunner feels like the players are caught
in the middle when it comes to a lockout.
"I think the longer it goes, the harder it is mentally to (train)," Langenbrunner said. "You plan your summers to get yourself ready for September and you can't train forever. I think for everybody it's a little bit different and know what you need to do to get ready. I think whenever there is uncertainty it does make that difficult. But having a group around town will help. We'll help push each other and pick each other up. As of now, we're preparing for Sept. 21."

It doesn't dispel the thoughts that Langenbrunner feels he and fellow players are the ones caught in the middle of a tug-o-war between the owners.

"I think all of us have to look at the big picture. We feel as players, this isn't even a player-owner problem. This is an owner-owner problem," Langenbrunner said. "We kind of get dragged into the middle of it, along with the fans. We play under the rules of their deal, how they interpreted those rules and how they decided to play with them was their call. But this is nothing that we designed, we're just a part of it."

The players are a big part of it, and as long as the two sides can come to a resolution, it will make things better for all parties, the game in general, and most importantly, the fans that support it.

"For me personally, I find that both sides, they would want it," Nichol said. "They'll get something done sooner than later, I would think.

"We love our union and the way (NHLPA executive director) Donald (Fehr's) been handling things. It'll all work out. There's too much to lose. I'm just a hockey player and want to play. Maybe I am optimistic."

Optimistic and from a fan's standpoint -- hopeful.

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