Canes pack up gear ahead of possible NHL lockout

calexander@newsobserver.comSeptember 15, 2012 

— A red Carolina Hurricanes equipment bag fully packed, team captain Eric Staal shouldered it Friday and took a quick last look around a mostly empty Raleigh Center Ice locker room.

Staal headed for the door, telling Canes equipment manager Skip Cunningham, "Hope to see you sooner rather than later."

No one can say when the team will return to the Canes’ RCI workout facility, which has a weight room, treatment room and dressing area. If a new collective bargaining agreement for the NHL is not approved by Saturday at 11:59 p.m., the NHL players will be locked out of all team facilities.

A lockout was all but assured Thursday, when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players Association executive director Donald Fehr remained at odds over core economic CBA issues. Bettman said the NHL’s owners unanimously support a lockout if a new CBA is not in place.

There were no negotiating sessions Friday between the league and union, and none are scheduled for Saturday.

Staal has been frustrated by the CBA negotiations and proposals by the league that would significantly reduce the players’ annual share of hockey-related revenue. He noted the league generated $3.3 billion this past year and been a growth industry since the last NHL lockout, when the 2004-2005 season had to be canceled.

"It’s hard to put a finger on what they’re really after," Staal said of NHL owners this week. "Since the last lockout, we’ve made over a billion dollars more and the league has grown every year. And now they want take a cut right off the top?

"When you’re growing like that as a league and then in a new deal you want to take a (big) cut, that’s not going to go over well with anybody. So it’s about trying to get a fair deal and figuring out what’s going to work best for both."

The mood was almost somber in the RCI locker room Friday as the players packed away their pads and skates and other gear, and bundled up their hockey sticks. Jordan Staal, Eric’s brother, was another who took a wistful look around before departing.

Anthony Stewart and Jay Harrison both attended NHLPA meetings Wednesday and Thursday in New York, where they were updated by Fehr on the pending lockout. The group of 283 players also included the Canes’ Tim Brent and Brian Boucher.

"It was good to go and get a sense of where the union is at and what we may do going forward," Stewart said. "Some may go overseas and others wait it out.

"We’ve been saying we’re united and we have faith in Don (Fehr), but to go in there and hear it first-hand ... we want to get a deal that’s fair and we want to get it done. You’ve got to fight for what you believe in. It (stings) for the fans, too, but there is a business side to it. We want to play, but there is a business side to it and we have to take care of that, too."

Asked if he got any sense of how long a lockout might last, Stewart said, "We don’t know. We could come to the table tonight. But right now we’re not on the same page. It’s eventually going to get done and we just want to get the right deal done, whether it takes a week, a month."

Stewart and Harrison both said there was a Q-and-A between Fehr and the players, that it wasn’t Fehr instructing them on what needed to be done. The players have other issues of concern, Harrison said, including such requests as having weight-training areas provided in all visiting NHL locker rooms.

"Everyone has bought into what we believe, and we believe we have proposed a really viable solution to the league’s problems as they have presented them,” Harrison said. "Certainly we don’t believe their proposal addresses the league-wide needs, treating Toronto the same as treating Phoenix, or Carolina for that matter. It doesn’t address the problems we’re facing as a league. We’re more than willing to make concessions, but we’d like to see some on the other side, as well."

With a lockout nearing, the Hurricanes on Friday placed 11 players on waivers with the purpose of assigning them to the Charlotte Checkers, Carolina’s American Hockey League affiliate.

Placed on waivers were: goaltender Justin Peters; forwards Zach Boychuk, Chris Terry, Jerome Samson, Brett Sutter, Tim Wallace and Nicholas Blanchard; and defensemen Bobby Sanguinetti, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Brett Bellemore and Justin Krueger. More Charlotte assignments are expected Saturday.

As for possible changes within the organization, general manager Jim Rutherford said full-time staff would remain "status quo" if there is a lockout.

Staal has said the Canes’ players likely will continue to rent ice time at RCI for informal skates. But the players will not be able to use the Canes’ RCI facility – or any of the facilities at PNC Arena – until a new CBA is signed.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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