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Lafleur says NHL, NHLPA need to think about fans, businesses

Guy Lafleur

Christinne Muschi/christinne muschi

Call him the Oracle of Thurso, after all he predicted six weeks ago that this would end in a 50-50 split, "like a divorce".

Now Montreal Canadiens icon Guy Lafleur thinks it's time for the NHL and the NHLPA to hunker down and make the math happen - sharpish.

"I think (50-50) is a fair deal for both sides . . . they have to talk, they have to make sure they're solving the problems before November," Lafleur said. "They should go back, sit down, finalize a deal and make the fans happy. They're the ones who are paying big money to go and see them play, they're the ones who are putting their bread and butter on the table. They should think about the fans and all the businesses that are supporting the NHL."

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When a living legend takes the time to dispense advice, it's often worth listening to.

In addition to being perhaps the most instantly identifiable person in the province - he is stopped on the street everywhere he goes -  Lafleur rubs shoulders with the public on a more intimate, daily basis at his restaurant in Rosemère, Que.

And he insists there are consequences to prolonging the lockout.

"A lot of fans are not happy about what's going on right now, so we wish that especially in my type of business - I'm in the restaurant business so I'm suffering a lot without having hockey right now, and I'm not the only one," he said.

Lafleur said business at his hockey-themed eatery is way down, and that he has had to cut back the number of hours his staff is working.

But more than any of that, it's the complaints from fans that have him worried.

"The people are upset, they're hoping they're going to get hockey before December, hopefully in November. They miss it for sure, a lot of them are depressed right now and hoping the season will start as soon as possible," he said Tuesday at an event to drum up some buzz for a Canadiens-branded condominium project.

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Lafleur isn't particularly sympathetic to the players' plight - there are good reasons for that: he played during a more deferential era, in the days before 10-year, $100-million deals, and now works as an ambassador for his former team.

It's his considered view that the NHLPA's silent majority - veteran players who make less than $3 million per season - needs to take control of the agenda and force a deal through.

"I don't think it's normal that the players are making more than the owners," he said.

That's a somewhat surprising position for a guy who once got so upset at a salary offer from then Habs GM Irving Grundman that he briefly held out and appealed directly to the owners.

He was rebuffed and told to thrash it our with Grundman (they eventually did).

Lafleur's general propensity to support a more favourable deal for the owners isn't unconditional, however.

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And he has a theory about why progress has been so slow.

"Some teams in the league right now, six teams are struggling financially. Mr. Bettman only needs eight teams to support (him) and these teams have nothing to lose, they're not paying any salaries, they're not making money, but I think maybe these teams are actually making money because they don't have to pay any salaries, that's why it's lasting this long," he said.

But now the moment has come to break the logjam, says the Hall of Famer, who also happens to be the Habs' all-time leading scorer.

"They have to get to a solution, they have to finalize a deal," he said.

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