Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fifteen years, then this?

Lockout would hit extra-hard in 'Peg after NHL's long absence

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It's a palpable vibe, a buzz that hits Winnipeg Jet players -- be they fresh faces or veterans -- the minute they hit the city limits.

This town loves its hockey team and, as was shown over and over last year, is ecstatic the National Hockey League is back.

And now it's on the verge of disappearing again with an impending lockout, the length of which is anybody's guess.

Frustrated yet? You're not alone there.

"It's tough timing for (Jets' fans). They waited for 15 years (for the NHL to return) and there's such a buzz around here for the hockey team... to have this is not good for anybody, the owners, the players and especially not the fans," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said Monday after a session with some teammates and local NHLers at the MTS Iceplex. Ladd arrived in Winnipeg Sunday night.

"As a player you know where they're coming from," said Jets centre Bryan Little "We feel for the fans, especially in our situation with this being the team's second year. I can understand they're frustrated.

"Believe me, as a player I want to play, I want the season to start on time. But this is necessary. We're just looking to get a fair deal out of it, too. At the same time, we're all itching to play so we want it just as bad as the fans."

Little was one of many Jets who are filtering back into Winnipeg for what was supposed to be the opening of training camps across the NHL on Sept. 21. But with the two sides seemingly far, far apart, it's expected that by the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement on Saturday the players will be locked out and arenas will go dark.

The two sides are to meet again this week in New York and Ladd will be one of many in attendance.

"We should have lots of guys there, so you should get a good pulse on how everyone is feeling and hopefully know where this thing is going a little better," he said.

"With the stance that we have and where they stand, you have to be able to push forward with this. That's one thing we feel really comfortable with: we're really unified and strong with our position. We feel that our offer is more on track than theirs. Theirs was a pretty low-ball offer to start off with and they haven't really made any concessions so far. Hopefully, we can get the ball rolling and get further along in negotiations."

Hope, however, is fading fast and the frustration level is only going to be cranked up in the next few days.

"We understand where (frustrated fans) are coming from because we're in the same position," Ladd said. "All we want to do is play hockey. It's our livelihood, it's what we do. You train hard all summer expecting to start up on time and play hockey. It's frustrating for us, too, but you have to stand up for what's fair and what you believe in and hopefully people can understand that.

Yes, bottom line is the players want to play, owners want their buildings full and fans just want to watch the drama unfold. When it was suggested to Ladd that perhaps the two sides just lock themselves in a room and not emerge until a deal is struck, he offered this:

"We wish it was that easy," Ladd said. "If they didn't start so low, maybe it'd be easier to keep those discussions going. But we seem to be at an impasse right now. Everyone is kind of drawing a line in the sand and we don't feel comfortable moving from where we are until they move a lot more."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 11, 2012 $sourceSection0

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