By Bill Hoppe
AMHERST — It’s looming. Barring a major negotiating breakthrough, the NHL plans to lock out its players at midnight Saturday, a sad and stunning end to a collective bargaining agreement under which the league generated record revenues.
Beginning today in Manhattan, at least 10 Buffalo Sabres will be among the 250 or so players attending the NHL Players’ Association meetings. The two sides also reportedly plan to meet again today, a bit of good news.
On Thursday, however, a short walk from the players’ hotel, the NHL’s Board of Governors will likely authorize commissioner Gary Bettman for the league’s third lockout in 18 years.
Sabres captain Jason Pominville said it’s surreal players are facing another work stoppage. The last one wiped out the entire 2004-05 season.
“For it to happen again, all you hear is the league has done better, has grown, has (produced) record (revenue) years every year since the lockout, and now we’re in the same spot,” Pominville said Tuesday inside the Northtown Center following an informal scrimmage. “They basically want to go back to where we were seven years ago. It’s disappointing because I’m sure there are some owners that want to play, want to get it done.”
Players have already started making lockout provisions. Twenty-eight Sabres and prospects skated together Tuesday. If there’s a lockout, old teammates will run practices, said Pominville, who wouldn’t name them.
“We want to be prepared,” Pominville said. “When it does get settled, if there is a lockout, it’s going to be five, six days where you have to get right back into it. So we want to be able to play.”
Tyler Myers, who said he recently gave his union rep duties to fellow defenseman Jordan Leopold, has been exploring options to play in Europe and would leave right away if an opportunity materialized.
“It all depends on the situation over there with whatever team,” Myers said. “But, yeah, I would love to get games in.”
Pominville and center Tyler Ennis, still a restricted free agent, said they’d play overseas if a lockout dragged on.
“I don’t know if I would right away,” Pominville said. “If it gets extended, I’m the type of guy that doesn’t want to sit around. I’d like to play. At the same time, there’s a big process that has to be done with your insurance.”
Right now, Pominville’s hoping a stoppage wouldn’t last long. Training camp is still slated to start Sept. 21, so there’s a little time before major cancelations could start taking place.
“We’re optimistic that hopefully it doesn’t take long to get it done,” the veteran said about a new CBA. “But as of right now, it’s a little disappointing. … We still have a little bit of time after that to get a deal done. Hopefully, they’ll be talk, and hopefully we can get it done and not miss much.”
Pominville will be in New York today and Thursday. The two days might be as much about optics as sharing information. The show of solidarity will be strong, he said.
In 2005, owners won virtually everything they wanted in the expiring CBA, crushing the NHLPA. The union had a revolving door of executive directors until Donald Fehr, baseball’s former union head, took over in 2010.
“You want to know that we’re behind our union and we feel comfortable with our position and with what he can do for us,” Pominville said about Fehr. “To be honest with you, I think we have the best guy in place to make a deal that’s good for both sides. We have his trust. We’ll go from there.”
Pominville added: “We want something that’s fair for us. It’s not only for us. It’s for the younger guys coming in eventually that will be part of the CBA. It has a big effect on a lot of people.”
Of course, a lockout would hurt more than the players, something Pominville understands.
“It’s frustrating for them, frustrating for us,” Pominville said. “It affects a lot of people; the people working in the building, the concessions, the restaurants around the arena won’t generate as much revenue.”
Ennis isn’t fretting because he’s unsigned.
“A lot of RFAs are in the same boat,” he said. “I’m not frustrated.”
The 22-year-old said he believes the CBA could be playing a factor.
“Maybe people are waiting to see what happens,” he said.
Could something get done before Saturday?
“We’ll see,” Ennis said. “Maybe.”