Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen and forward Scott Hartnell are part owners of a team in the Finnish league. Timonen, a father of three children, said it would be hard to immediately consider playing overseas unless the entire season was wiped out. But Timonen returned to his native Finland to play in 2004, and clearly understands why some young players are interested in finding a roster spot in Europe.
“A lot of young guys are asking if there’s a spot to play,” he said. “I’m sure our team can take a few of the guys, but not many.”
The core issue is money — how to split a $3.3 billion pot of revenue. The owners want to decrease the percentage of hockey-related revenue that goes to players, while the union wants a guarantee that players annually get at least the $1.8 billion in salaries paid out last season.
While the NHL lockout might not destroy the whole season — like in 2004-05 — a sizable chunk of games could be lost without any productive talks on tap.
“I’m sure we will remain in contact,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. “But there are no negotiations planned or scheduled at this point.”
Teams are prepared for the likelihood the season will not start on time. And so they are making economic plans on several fronts. At the end of each month, for instance, the Buffalo Sabres will refund any games that are canceled by the NHL.
The Minnesota Wild, meanwhile, fresh off a free-agent spending spree that landed them forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Sutter, will send out ticket policies on Monday.
“We support the league’s position and trust our NHL negotiating team is looking out for the long-term interests of the game,” the Wild said in a statement. “Even as NHL games may be missed, the Wild will continue to support the great sport of hockey at all levels through our grass roots partnerships with amateur hockey associations.”
Minnesota defenseman Steven Kampfer was fired up to report for training part in part to see what it would look like to have those prized free agents — Parise and Suter — in uniform to ignite a franchise that missed the playoffs last season.
“It was going to be really exciting to see our lineup with those two acquisitions,” Kampfer said. “I guess we’ll just have to wait a little longer.”
Parise and Suter signed on the same day in July as the Wild made a statement to the rest of the league that they wanted to be true players in the Western Conference. But that will have to wait.
“It’s a frustration situation to go through because you never want a work stoppage,” Kampfer said. “But we’re trying to fight for what’s fair for both the owners and players. Everybody wants more money. The owners want to keep more of their profits and the players want their fair share of the profits. As players, we have full confidence that (NHLPA executive director) Donald Fehr will do his job to get us the best deal that he can.”
For now, most teams seem to be stable financially. The cancellation of games may change that, but for the time being, the panic button has not been pushed. Penguins spokesman Tom McMillan, for example, said the team has no plans on layoffs “at this time.”
In jeopardy are some key dates on the calendar: the New Year’s Day outdoor Winter Classic at 115,000-seat Michigan Stadium between the host Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs; and the Jan. 27 All-Star game hosted by the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the league’s struggling small-market teams.