Unity a key for locked-out players
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This is, by most accounts, the easy part.
The time when players' enthusiasm for their cause is high, and their bank accounts are full.
When there is no reason members of the NHL Players' Association should not maintain a united front in the lockout that has, at the very least, delayed the opening of training camps and wiped out most of the preseason schedule.
Because player salaries are paid during the regular season, not a single paycheck has been missed, and players actually are scheduled to soon receive money that was held in escrow during the 2011-12 season under terms of the last collective bargaining agreement.
Those checks reportedly are worth an average of about $163,000, so it's unlikely that any player is in immediate peril of, say, having his utilities shut off.
But there is nothing to suggest that the sides agree on anything of consequence, except perhaps for how little on which they agree, so it's unlikely agreement on a new CBA will be reached anytime soon.
There were no negotiations Sunday, although the sides are expected to meet today to discuss hockey-related revenue from last season. That session could lead to renewed talks about a CBA to replace the one that expired Sept. 15.
While such discussions never are a bad thing, the owners and players have not come close to finding common ground on major economic issues, such as what constitutes hockey-related revenue and how it should be shared.
Until one side, or both, makes a major adjustment to its position on key financial matters, there's no chance of a settlement that would save the 2012-13 season.
Not surprisingly, some Penguins who went through the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season believe that personal finances became a huge factor in the cracks that developed in the NHLPA's unity then.
"Money," winger Pascal Dupuis said. "It's always a money issue."
Precedent says most owners can withstand the loss of revenues from ticket sales, sponsorships, broadcast rights, etc. for longer than many players can get by without being paid, which translates to leverage for management in the negotiations.
Money-related cracks in the NHLPA's solidarity presumably contributed to concessions that produced what was widely regarded as an owner-friendly CBA when it was finalized in 2005.
"Certainly, we found it challenging [to maintain unity] last time," Penguins player representative Craig Adams said. "Hopefully, we'll learn from our mistakes.
"Right now, guys are in a good mindset and well-informed. They know what's on the table and what there is, potentially, to lose. So far, so good."
Players who were locked out eight years ago consistently mention a lack of communication between NHLPA officials and members of that group. And to a man, they insist that has not been an issue since Donald Fehr took over as executive director of the NHLPA.
"Right now, I don't see anything that's going to splinter us, or rip us apart," Penguins left winger Matt Cooke said. "We went through that once before, and there were a lot of issues -- communication, [lack of] an opportunity to go to meetings.
"No one really knew what was going on. Don Fehr and his staff have done an unbelievable job of keeping the players updated, and I think that's the biggest thing."
Information, no matter how complete and current, isn't the currency of choice at most supermarkets and retail outlets, however, so dozens of players already have sought work outside the NHL. Those who haven't are adamant that they don't begrudge guys looking out for their own interests, whatever the reason.
"Guys going to Europe doesn't have anything to do with solidarity," Cooke said. "That's guys having a desire to play. There are other places to play than the NHL, and they're willing to go there and play.
"If guys want to do that, more power to them. Guys can go wherever they want, can do whatever they want."
How things will play out in coming weeks and months is impossible to predict. Players, though, contend it would be a mistake for management to count on their unified front crumbling, as it did in the last lockout.
"I hope not," Cooke said. "Because if they are, they're in for a rude awakening. I don't think they should expect us to.
"I don't think that should be their cue to try to make a deal, because the messages aren't going to change."
First Published September 24, 2012 12:00 am