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Tampa Bay Lightning

Bolts' frustrations grow as NHL lockout looms

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 11:15 AM
BRANDON -

Around the Ice Sports Forum, where Tampa Bay Lightning players have begun to gather to prepare for the upcoming season, it's business as usual.

Except for the NHL, the next 10 days are anything but standard operating procedure.

Come the end of next week, the doors very well could be locked, leaving the players in the dark and the season potentially hanging in the balance. The collective bargaining agreement expires Sept. 15, and if a new deal is not in place, the NHL will institute its third lockout since 1994.

The last lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season. That thought has many on edge, expecting the worst while hoping for the best.

"I'm optimistic, but I'm really worried at the same time,'' Lightning all-star Marty St. Louis said on Wednesday. "Time will tell, and time usually takes care of things like this. But am I worried? Yes, absolutely.''

The Lightning are scheduled to open training camp on Sept. 21, with the season-opening game set for Oct. 13 at Florida.

As of Wednesday, no new formal negotiations were scheduled between the league and the NHL Players' Association. The last talks were Friday at the league offices in New York, when the sides stepped away from the bargaining table.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said he thinks teams are paying the players too much money and wants immediate reductions, while the players have offered to reduce salaries if a form of revenue sharing is instilled to help some of the lower-revenue teams.

The players union thinks it gave up too much during the last lockout — including an immediate 24 percent salary rollback, among other concessions — and is not interested in a salary rollback this time around with Donald Fehr as executive director.

"For us, we have great leadership and I'm very comfortable in how we have handled things and how we have moved forward so far,'' St. Louis said. "Last time we lost an entire season to turn around and give them their deal, so if we have to sit, we'll sit.

"That's how I feel. It's frustrating and we all want to play, but we are not going to play just on their terms. We did that last time.''

With the sides at an impasse, the threat of a lockout is moving closer to reality.

"It appears that based on the response we got from the union last Friday, our talks have stalled, at least temporarily,'' NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in an email to Sports Business Daily. "While we certainly remain hopeful they will resume shortly it is obviously becoming increasingly unlikely that NHL training camps will start on time.''

In Brandon, players are gathering on weekday mornings for informal workouts. They play pickup games, work out in the gym and visit the training room, which is already the destination for ice bags, rub downs and cold tubs.

With the deadline to get a deal done just more than a week away, a sense of frustration is beginning to mount.

"I think there is obviously a level of (frustration),'' said new Lightning forward B.J. Crombeen, who has been actively involved in the labor discussions throughout the summer. "I think going into this we knew where they stood and what they were thinking and how they have dealt with this in the past. We knew there was a possibility that they would lock us out.

"We really tried to avoid that by making a good, sound proposal. We didn't come in and ask for more or do something that wasn't an actual proposal. So, it's frustrating from that standpoint, but it's something we knew was possible and we are willing to stand behind it. We have the support of all the guys.''


eerlendsson@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7835 Twitter: erlendssontrib

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