In NHL's cold war, Russia gets MVP

Posted: September 18, 2012

The NHL's third lockout in 18 years, which started after the collective bargaining agreement expired at 11:59 p.m. Saturday, had both sides putting on their respective public-relations spin Sunday.

The NHL said that despite the CBA's expiration, the league "remains committed to negotiating around the clock" to reach a new agreement fair to both sides.

But according to the NHL Players Association, the league was unwilling to go back to the bargaining table on Saturday night.

In other words, it sounds as if it will take a while before common ground is reached.

The owner-imposed lockout has caused some players to plan to play in Europe until a new CBA is in place. Others have a wait-and-see approach and will train at local arenas, paying for their own ice time.

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, the league's MVP, and Ottawa defenseman Sergei Gonchar have agreed to play with Metallurg in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.

Representatives for the league and the players have not scheduled any negotiating meetings, leaving a gloomy outlook for the season to start as slated on Oct. 11. Teams are scheduled to have their first on-ice, training-camp sessions on Saturday, but that date and the preseason games are in jeopardy.

The division of hockey-related revenue, revenue sharing to help the small-market teams, the length of contracts, and free-agency changes are among the issues that have not been resolved.

On their websites Sunday, the NHL (via statement) and the NHL Players Association (via video) explained their positions.

"I think we understand the people who suffer the most are the fans," the Penguins' Sidney Crosby said. "You want both sides to benefit. As players, we want to play, but we also know what's right and what's fair."

The NHL's statement, which some teams (including the Flyers) put on their websites, said in part, "Thanks to the conditions fostered by seven seasons under the previous CBA, competitive balance has created arguably the most meaningful regular season in pro sports; a different team has won the Stanley Cup every year; fans and sponsors have agreed the game is at its best, and the league has generated remarkable growth and momentum."

The league claimed it needs to make "necessary adjustments" to produce a "more sustainable division of revenues with the players" in the new CBA.

The NHL said "this is a time of year for all attention to be focused on the ice, not on a meeting room" and that both sides have a stake in resolving issues as quickly as possible. "We owe it to each other, to the game and, most of all, to the fans," the NHL said.

The NHL may find that many fans won't mind missing the first two months of the season, especially with the NFL, college football, and MLB's postseason to fill the void.

The NHL's regular season seemed irrelevant last year. Eighth-seeded Los Angeles, which struggled just to make the playoffs, defeated sixth-seeded New Jersey in the Stanley Cup Finals.

"We're definitely worried about [losing] the fans," said backup Flyers goalie Michael Leighton, who will train in Windsor, Ontario, during the lockout. "We want to play and we want to play for the fans. I know it will be disappointing for the fans if we don't play, but they have to realize it's disappointing for us, too."

 Sean Couturier, the Flyers' gifted young center, was 11 at the start of the 2004-05 season, which was canceled by a labor dispute.

"I used to spend my nights watching hockey, and now I had nothing to do with my nights," recalled Couturier, 19, who will play for the AHL Phantoms if the lockout remains in place. Back then, Couturier said, "I really didn't understand" what had caused the lockout. "Obviously, it was about money, but I didn't understand it all."


Contact Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com.

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