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."