- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Nicklas Backstrom insisted he wasn’t thinking about making plans in the event of a potential NHL lockout. But Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin made it clear he has.

“Of course I think about it because my hometown have teams and my Russian Federation have a league. Of course I’m probably going to be there. But I don’t want to be there; I want to be here,” Ovechkin said in a conversation with beat reporters Tuesday. “But, again, my contract is here and I hope the NHL and NHLPA are going to sign a deal before the 15th.”

The NHL’s current collective bargaining agreement expires at 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 15, and a lockout is looming unless owners and the Players’ Association can get a deal done. With no talks planned for this week, a work stoppage is looking increasingly likely.

And while some have shrugged off what a lockout could mean, focusing energy on hockey and getting ready, Ovechkin is involved and has strong opinions on the issues.

“If it’s going to be lockout, there’s going be lockout. We’re ready for that,” Ovechkin said. “If [we were] not ready we’d probably sign that kind of paper [offer] what they give us. But we’re ready and we’re not going to give up.”

One of the concerns from former players like Caps associate goaltending coach Olie Kolzig about the 2004-05 lockout was that the NHLPA didn’t have a Plan B when owners didn’t budge on demands.

Ovechkin, Backstrom (and last week ex-Caps now New York Rangers forward Jeff Halpern) expressed confidence in NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and a steadfast belief that players want what’s good for hockey.

“I think he wants to communicate and make the league better for both partners,” Backstrom said. “That’s something that the NHL doesn’t want to do, I think.”

The owners’ first offer reportedly included cutting the players’ share of hockey-related revenue from 57 percent to 43-46 percent, depending on the definition of that money. In essence, it could mean players league-wide taking a significant cut in salaries.

“I think it’s not fair for us. They still make money, they still sell tickets and they have money,” Ovechkin said. “Why [do] they sign us long-term deals and that kind of money to after that when the CBA’s going to be done, they want to cut our salary? Why they want to cut it to 24? Why don’t they want to cut a hundred percent of salary?”

Obviously, because the players are the product and the NHL cannot survive without them.

“If they need us, how I say, if they’re going to cut percentage of the contract and years, I don’t think lots of guys who signed American deals are going to come back and play here,” Ovechkin said. “It’s not reasonable to be here. You have to think of the future, you have to think of your family.”

Ovechkin, who like Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin, could potentially get a deal in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. Asked if guys would consider playing in another league if NHL owners cut players’ salaries by 15 or 20 percent, Ovechkin said, “Yeah, why not.” But would he?

“Well, I’m going to think about it, but I hope not. It’s something the league wants to do it for all the players,” he said. “[Sidney] Crosby just signed, Suter, Weber just signed huge deals and they want to cut 24 percent for nothing? I don’t think it’s fair enough.”

Beyond players, any lockout would have an impact on team employees, arena staffers and, obviously, ticket-buying fans. Players largely understand it’s about more than just them.

“Of course it’s going to be hard, of course it’s going to be a long time to wait, but it is what it is,” Ovechkin said. “Everybody wants to play hockey and make money. Nobody wants to play for free.”

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