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The Globe and Mail

Leafs players frustrated by looming lockout

Toronto Maple Leafs Joffrey Lupul celebrates his goal on the Edmonton Oilers during first period  NHL hockey game action in Edmonton on Wednesday, February 15,  2012.

The Canadian Press

He is coming off a career year, one in which he made the all-star game and put up more than a point a game on a line with Phil Kessel.

He is also entering the final season of his contract and set to become an unrestricted free agent under whatever deal is in place in 2013.

So when Joffrey Lupul expressed his exasperation over the NHL season potentially not starting on time due to a lockout on Monday, the Toronto Maple Leafs winger had plenty of reasons to do so.

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Now an eight-year veteran of the league, Lupul pointed out that he has already missed one season to a lockout and said it would be a shame for a league that has experienced record growth to once again shutter its doors yet again while he's in the prime of his career and playing for a new deal.

"We had the opportunity now to see the numbers and see what each team makes and how much the league has grown in the past few years," Lupul said of the NHLPA's pursuit of financial information during negotiations. "We've seen how much revenue the league is creating.

"At the end of the last year, if you would have told us there was going to be a lockout, with the business growing so steadily, I don't think anyone would have [believed it]. But it seems like this has been their plan the whole time... it's step one in their negotiations. It's a little frustrating for us."

That was a sentiment echoed by all of the Leafs players on Monday as they gathered at Rattlesnake Point for their annual charity golf tournament.

In previous years, the event marks the unofficial start to training camp, with players like captain Dion Phaneuf and others all returning to Toronto just in time to play 18 holes with various alumni and sponsors.

This year, however, there's little guarantee camp will begin on Sept. 21 as planned. It's widely expected the league will lock players out when the previous collective bargaining agreement expires at midnight on Saturday.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has called a board of governors meeting this week in New York and some 200 players are expected to descend on the city as negotiations reach their final stages.

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While the regular season isn't scheduled to begin until Oct. 11, this weekend could mark the final deadline for getting a deal done without missing any games.

"[Sept. 15] wasn't a deadline set by us," Phaneuf said. "That was a deadline that was set by the owners and Gary. We are confident we're still going to get something done. We're working towards getting a fair deal."

"The players want to play," said Mike Brown, who was sporting an incredibly large beard he has been growing the past four months for charity. "We want to get a deal done; we just want to get a fair deal.

Hopefully it happens soon."

"It's not looking good right now, but you've got to stay positive," netminder James Reimer added.

Of all the Leafs players who met with the media on Monday, Lupul seemed to be the most plugged into the situation. He spoke eloquently about some of the issues involved and how this situation is different than in 2004-05, when the union was broken after an entire season was cancelled.

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Lupul added that he has attended some of the meetings and been checking in online to receive updates from the PA often, even as he made a trip to Australia to surf during his summer break.

"Right now the players are really informed, better than they have been in the past," Lupul said. "Donald Fehr has done a great job keeping everyone informed... that's one thing this time we've done a really good job of."

If there is a lockout, Lupul plans to play in Europe and, like many others, has been in contact with some leagues there to lineup a spot.

"Obviously I want to play here, in Toronto," he said. "[The NHL] is where everyone wants to play. I've missed one year of my career to a lockout already; it'd be really tough to sit out a second year."

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