TORONTO- With an NHL lockout looming, Joffrey Lupul had some advice for the owners and players working on a new collective bargaining agreement.
Don’t forget the fans.
“It’s important that we realize this affects a lot of people beside us,” the Toronto Maple Leafs winger said Thursday. “I’m a hockey fan myself and it sucks. There will be a point when fans start getting fed up. It’s frustrating so I can only imagine what someone else thinks, who doesn’t play in the NHL.”
NHL owners and the NHL Players’ Association both had internal meetings Thursday as labour talks continued, but there wasn’t any forward motion in reaching a new deal. The league has said it will lock players out if a new agreement isn’t in place by the time the current one runs out just before midnight on Saturday.
Leaf players Mike Komisarek, James Reimer, Ben Scrivens, David Steckel, Cody Franson, Matthew Lombardi, John-Michael Liles, James van Riemsdyk took part in discussions and joined some 280 other NHL players representing their union in New York. Steckel, who is the club’s official team representative, has had the task of relaying messages to his teammates.
“They’ve done a great job of keeping us informed,” Lupul said. “Our team’s well represented in New York. If I thought I wasn’t informed I’d be on my way (there).”
Some Leafs have considered playing overseas of there’s a lengthy lockout.
“The answer is yes at some point in time,” said Lupul about the chance to go to Europe. “There’s going to be a point when guys are looking over there because we want to play.”
Forward Mikhail Grabovski was quite candid when asked about playing in another league.
“Oh yeah, for sure,” he said. “Everyone’s trying to stay positive and get a deal done. I believe we can fix it but if not I’ll think about a plan B.”
Tim Connolly, who is in his final year of a contract, isn’t thinking about playing anywhere else if there is no NHL season. In fact, he was training in Toronto on Thursday as if the season would start right on schedule.
“It is what it is whether it’s a contract year or not,” Connolly said. “I haven’t been paying too much attention to (the lockout). I’m just preparing as if there would be a year. My focus is on my training, that’s it.”
While there is uncertainty for most Leaf players with regards to a back-up plan, anyone on a two-way contract will likely find themselves in the AHL to start the year.
“Hopefully something gets worked out soon but if not I’ll probably play for the Marlies,” said defenceman Jake Gardiner.
The same can be said for forward Nazem Kadri, who is also on a two-way deal.
Clarke MacArthur hinted that some players would “rent” ice in Toronto to continue training on their own. Scrivens said he’ll head home to Alberta to train until the season starts.
In the event of a lockout, the NHL will suspend all league-related activities including access to team facilities, trainers and coaches. However, Lupul is still hopeful that progression can be made before training camps get scrapped.
“Sept. 15 is kind of the day they penciled in because of the old agreement expiring, but camp doesn’t start to the 22nd so there’s a one week period where they’ll say the lockout is on but it truly isn’t,” he said. “That gives us another week to negotiate and hopefully things will move in the right direction.”
* This article was written for The Canadian Press