The tone on the ice was jovial. Eleven locked-out NHL players, mostly Vancouver Canucks, wearing their team jerseys inside out, at the University of British Columbia. Ten skaters, one goaltender, Cory Schneider. Among the drills and games at a light, informal practice on Monday were a series of scrimmages, 2-on-2s, 3-on-3s, and even 5-on-5. At one juncture, Schneider was on his back and pulled off some sort of folded upside-down double-stack of his pads to fend off a Henrik Sedin shot.
There were a lot of smiles, hooting and hollering, even a moonwalk-like goal celebration on skates: men playing a boy’s game.
Off the ice, the tone was cold.
You could tell it was cold on a sunny and warm mid-September Monday in Vancouver. The inside-out jerseys were just one sign that the star employees of the Canucks had been locked out by their owner, Francesco Aquilini. Replacement jerseys from the National Hockey League Players’ Association – practices will continue this week – are on the way.
In this collective bargaining limbo, after the imposed Sept. 15 deadline and before the Sept. 21 scheduled opening of training camp, nothing was said on Monday that people haven’t heard before. Schneider, a team representative on the players’ association bargaining committee, said nothing had been scheduled.
The 26-year-old lone goaltender – Roberto Luongo flew home to Florida last Saturday – was defiant, and pragmatic.
“For us not to have an agreement yet speaks volumes to what we believe and how strongly we feel about the quality of the owners’ proposal,” Schneider said on Day 2 of the lockout. “The fact that we’re not accepting it should tell you everything.”
Schneider, however, knows that the owners have already won, starting with their low opening offer of 43 per cent of revenue for players, down from the previous 57. Many observers feel 50-50 is “fair,” even if 50-50 means a large pay cut for players (again).
“They’ve already won so far,” Schneider said of the owners. “We’re going to take a pay cut from what we’ve made before. So, they already have won, it’s just a matter how much they want to win versus how much everyone’s willing to say, ‘All right, let’s get the game going.’”
Defenceman Kevin Bieska scoffed at 50-50 as a fair split of revenues, arguing the NHL is not comparable to football or basketball, given the much greater revenues in those sports – especially from television.
“Fifty-fifty to the educated person doesn’t mean anything,” Bieksa said. “It’s 50 per cent of what. People say why can’t you be more like football or basketball. ... You can’t even compare it. We’ll take 50-50, for sure, put more into the pie, and we’ll take 50-50.”
Bieksa said he felt the strong majority of fans stand behind the players.
“People are informed, and they know what’s really going on here. They know it’s a $3-billion business, and they know the owners had record revenues last year. You just look at the numbers. For the most part, the educated fan, 75 per cent of them, are behind us.”
Bieksa also swung at the mad rush of $200-million-plus contracts in the dying days of the expired collective bargaining agreement (CBA). “It’s ridiculous, and I think everybody sees that. If you don’t see that, you’re blind. The problem isn’t with us, making too much, it’s them overpaying guys and creating their own problems.”
The informal Canucks practices will go on this week. No player indicated an immediate jump to Europe. For Schneider, he said the larger international ice surface would be an adjustment, an unnecessary one if the NHL starts soon. The Sedins might consider Sweden, eventually. Jannik Hansen, not at UBC on Monday, was rumoured to be mulling a return to his homeland, Denmark., of which in an Internet report (through Google translate) Hansen described as “not entirely impossible.”
As for the new contracts late last week – and Schneider just signed one less than three months ago – the goaltender said: “It’s just that a lot of owners are giving guys new contracts left and right and telling you how much you’re worth, and that they want you there, then all of a sudden they want 20 per cent of it back. It’s hard to take them at their word, when they say things and a month later they don’t mean it any more, so it’s just a contrast.”
A compromise, of some sort, eventually, awaits.
“I’m sure both sides won’t be happy with whatever the agreement is,” Schneider said. “And some times that’s how negotiations work.”