NHL lockout 2012: Unified, players roll with punches

Losing checks is the price they pay

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With a baby on the way and an NHL lockout looming, Troy Brouwer had a plan. He squirreled away money and made sure he and his family could survive a long winter.

But perhaps Mike Tyson said it best: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Owners punched players in their faces by locking them out Sept. 15 and canceling games through Nov. 30. Another right hook could come Thursday with the cancellation of the Winter Classic. 

And while the league holds the power and leverage to eliminate games and the primary source of income, don’t expect players to crack. Even for the rank-and-file, this is a battle of principles that’s worth losing paychecks and possibly even a season over.

“It’s tough on us, for sure. There’s no doubt. I don’t have enough in my personal bank account that I’m set for life,” Boston Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton said. “I’m going to have to go back to work after all this, and if I miss two years, I’m basically [screwed].”

Thornton has been punched in the face numerous times during his career. But even those who don’t drop the gloves recognize the mentality of not wanting to lose a battle such as this.

“We’re all losing money. We’re not the only ones losing money here,” Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. “It’s the teams, the fans. Everybody’s losing. This is not a good situation for everybody. But sometimes there’s things you have to fight for, and this is one of those things.”

For the NHLPA, it could be argued that a bad deal is better than no deal, but this isn’t a one-year collective bargaining agreement. Giving up paychecks in the short term is not ideal, but players are adamant about wanting the league to honor existing contracts because of their long-term value.

“What players want is a fair deal, an equitable deal,” NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said. “One that they can believe is even-handed and can set the stage for the future so we don’t have to go through this every few years. It’s enough already.”

Questions about solidarity are impossible for individual players to answer. It’s unfair for Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin and Penguins counterpart Sidney Crosby to speak for Jay Beagle and Thornton and vice-versa.

Brouwer said he’s fortunate to have made enough money to hold him over. But he and others know this isn’t just about living month to month.

“It’s not just affecting you now; but it’s something that’s going to affect you for a very long time,” Brouwer said. “You take the measures to make sure that you’re going to be OK financially and your well-being to make sure that you’ll be OK for a long period of time.”

Players in 2004-05 lost money that they’re never getting back. But whereas then cracks began appearing when games started coming off the schedule, that’s not happening now.

“From what I understand because I wasn’t in the league in 2004, but things fell apart at the seams for the PA,” Anaheim Ducks forward Bobby Ryan said. “I can’t speak for a guy that’s on the fourth line and needs to be playing and is losing a period of that finite window that he has. It’s tough. But I think the union is extremely strong right now. From what I understand, it’s the strongest it’s ever been, and guys are really looking to get in on this.”

Veteran Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Joe Corvo, who played for the Capitals in 2010, credited new voices for taking the lead during this lockout. Plus, many who went through the last work stoppage are lending advice.

Unlike 2004-05, when former Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig said the players didn’t have a “Plan B,” there seems to be little doubt that the NHLPA is better prepared this time.

“Going forward here, we know what the risks are, we know what precautions we need to take,” Brouwer said. “And at the same point, we’re still staying strong to our principles, and we want to make sure that there’s a fair deal for both sides.”

In the meantime, it hurts to miss paychecks for those who haven’t signed to play overseas or in a minor league in North America. But escrow checks for last season arrived this week, and many players made it clear that money won’t be a problem.

“I think every player is smart with that side of things, and it’s not really something to worry about,” Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “Our biggest concern is our future and our future in this game, and supporting ourselves and our families. [This is] our way to earn a living, and we work hard at it. We’ve earned how far we’ve come, every single player top to bottom, and it’s something that’s worth standing up for at this point.”

Despite what likely will be diminishing returns — at least in the short term — on the new CBA, players aren’t standing for being punched in the face.

“I hope this gets solved and I don’t have to worry about it. But if it doesn’t right now, I’m on board. I’m on board with the union,” Thornton said. “It’s out of my hands to a degree, so you just try and make the best of it. If I’ve got to go back to the steel factory, I’ve got to go back to the steel factory.”

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