Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Locked-out Jets still hoping

Resumption of talks sparks some optimism for idle NHLers

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With negotiations between the NHL and the NHL Players Association scheduled to resume Friday in New York, there was at least a whiff of optimism on Wednesday among locked-out players in Winnipeg.

 

"Optimistic," declared Jets defenceman Mark Stuart. "At least there's communication. And we should all be optimistic as long as those discussions are taking place."

The discussions this week will turn away from how exactly to share the pie that was about $3.3 billion worth of hockey-related revenue (HRR) last season.

Instead, the sides have agreed to devote their attention to other issues, quite possibly arbitration and free agent matters, length of contracts, other player benefits like pensions and travel practices and possibly league discipline and training camps.

Stuart and teammates like Olli Jokinen, Bryan Little, Jim Slater and Alexander Burmistrov should be nearly a week into a training camp but instead, continue to work out on the ice at the MTS Iceplex several times a week.

Winnipeg has already seen two pre-season games wiped out and the other five, along with the entire rest of the NHL exhibition season will be scuttled within a day or so.

September's games were canceled last week, and time is running short for any possible avenue to the regular season opening on schedule on Oct. 11.

The general consensus is that most NHL players won't miss those pre-season games, both for the risk of injuries and the fact that they aren't paid their salaries for exhibition action.

Don't count Stuart among that crowd.

"I do (miss them)," he said Wednesday at the Iceplex. "It helps you get ready. But as long as we're playing real games soon, it doesn't really matter."

The Jets have been officially inactive since early April and however awkward or "off" this makes their natural rhythm, more patience is going to be required for the on-ice resumption of NHL careers.

"Obviously you prepare for a certain day but I think we all knew coming in that it might not be a possibility," Stuart said. "So you just have to readjust. I don't think it's that hard to do. When things get going again, I think we'll all be ready to go."

The question was either eager or desperate -- Stuart was asked if he knew when the lockout would be over.

"I have no idea," he said. "If I had a crystal ball, I'd tell you. But I have no clue. I'm just taking it day by day. I come out here, skate, work out and see what happens.

"I think everybody's probably a little up and down. But that's the thing, nobody really knows. You have to show some kind of emotion, I guess, just to keep going but there's really nothing to talk about. You guys know that."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 27, 2012 C2

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