Capitals players willing to wait owners out in NHL lockout

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

Union want its fair share in next CBA

For the second time in eight years the NHL's owners have imposed a league-wide lockout on its players after the collective bargaining agreement with the NHL Players' Association expired Saturday at 11:59 p.m.

It is the fourth work stoppage in NHL history and third lockout during the tenure of commissioner Gary Bettman. The last one in 2004-05 cost the league an entire season, and the concern now is that the momentum the NHL built in the ensuing years could be lost if another CBA isn't agreed upon before the season. Are the two negotiating partners willing to lose another season with this fight?

"If that's what it means," said Capitals forward Brooks Laich, the team's player representative. "Players have long memories."

And they remember the 24 percent rollback in salaries owners imposed on them during the last negotiations and the implementation of a salary cap for the first time. The NHLPA isn't seeking to overturn the cap system right now, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr has said publicly. It is adamant that another rollback won't happen.

"We just want to make this system right and make it fair," Caps forward Nicklas Backstrom said. "I mean, we're not dumb. Obviously we want a great deal for both partners."

Laich said that players want to begin the season on time with their NHL teams. Most training camps were set to open this week with preseason games soon to follow. But if not, there are opportunities to play in Europe for some. Other rookies and even some younger players still have the opportunity to play in the American Hockey League, the NHL's top minor league. Washington has assigned goalie Braden Holtby and defenseman Dmitry Orlov, both expected to be major contributors to the NHL team this season, to Hershey of the AHL.

"It's not like this has just come upon us," Laich said. "We've been talking about a new CBA. We've had CBA prep meetings as far back as two years ago, so the players are prepared. Last time we thought we got the raw end of the deal. We have to fight this time."

Owners aren't allowed to comment on the lockout. But Bettman has argued that they are supplying the infrastructure to allow the NHL to thrive in the first place and take all of the financial risk to do so. From that perspective, each side is negotiating what it considers a fair piece of the NHL's record $3.3 billion in revenues last season. That is up from $2.1 billion before the last lockout.

"It's obviously a tough subject. But it's part of life," said new Washington coach Adam Oates, who endured the 1994-95 lockout, a short players strike late in the season in 1992 and again in 2004-05. "We'll send some guys down to Hershey. But other than that it's business. It's a job, and this is the ugly part of it."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner