NHL players' union bids to win fans' hearts, minds

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The conflict that has shut down the NHL the past month is all about power and money, not hearts and minds.

Sure, there might be a public-relations battle between the league and its players' association, but it qualifies as no more than a secondary skirmish.

At most.

Still, officials of the NHLPA have been encouraging members to burnish the group's image with displays of community involvement, specifically by practicing, or at least skating, with members of youth hockey teams.

Convincing the public to side with the players might not have an impact on what the collective bargaining agreement that eventually ends the lockout will look like but, the thinking goes, it certainly can't hurt.

And, for what it's worth, the response seems to have been quite positive in places where NHLPA members have put their leaders' suggestions into action.

Craig Adams, the Penguins player representative, said Monday that he and his teammates are open to the idea of interacting with young people that way, but downplayed the effect that doing so would have on public impressions of the dispute.

"Obviously, everybody wants to have people on their side, and we'd love to have the fans on our side," he said after a player-run workout at Southpointe. "But, realistically, I don't get into that too much because if I was a fan, I'd be mad at everybody.

"I'm not going to campaign for anyone to be on our side because, even though I certainly have my own opinions, if you're a fan, I think you're just fed up with the whole thing."

The 2012-13 season was scheduled to begin Thursday, but games through Oct. 24 already have been called off, and another round of cancellations is expected this week.

CBA talks are to resume today in Toronto, with the top negotiators on each side -- commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly for the league, and executive director Donald Fehr and special counsel Steve Fehr of the NHLPA -- scheduled to participate.

Precisely what is on the agenda today has not been divulged; the financial issues that are at the core of the lockout received little, if any, attention when the parties met in New York last week.

Adams has sat in on a number of bargaining sessions in recent weeks, but said Monday he had not decided whether to attend the meeting today.

If he opts against it, he likely will be back at Southpointe for another of the workouts players have run so they will be as prepared as possible to resume playing when the lockout ends.

And perhaps they will discuss when it might be feasible for one or more of them to get on the ice with a youth club from somewhere in the area.

"I'm sure everyone could find some time in an afternoon or evening to go out and skate with a kids team or something," Adams said.

But he is equally certain his teammates -- and, for that matter, the fans -- would prefer to be performing for those young players, not with them.

NOTES -- If not for the lockout, NHL players would have received their first paychecks of the season Monday. ... Former Penguins goalie Brent Johnson joined nine of his ex-teammates for an on-ice workout at Southpointe Monday. Johnson became an unrestricted free agent July 1. ... Evgeni Malkin scored the winning goal in Metallurg Magnitogorsk's 3-2 victory in a Kontinental Hockey League game Monday against Torpedo. He finished with eight shots on goal and was 14-12 on faceoffs.


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter: @MolinariPG.


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