AS much as he may be tempted, it's not Ron Hainsey's job to provide a glimmer of hope for NHL fans fearing a lockout could cost a chunk of the season.
Instead, the Winnipeg Jets' NHL Players' Association rep -- a man who has been front and centre in efforts to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement alongside executive director Donald Fehr -- has been dealing with the cold, hard facts of the negotiations.
When asked to offer his take on whether this week's discussions constitute progress, Hainsey opted to choose his words carefully.
"I'll borrow a quote that Don (Fehr) used earlier: I'm not in the fortune-teller business," Hainsey said Wednesday in a telephone interview from New York. "We're still talking every day. There's been movement -- whether it's been significant or meaningful or hopeful, I'd rather not attach a word to it. But we're still talking, we're still scheduled to talk every day for the rest of this week and then after the holiday weekend the rest of next week and tentatively right through (to the Sept. 15 deadline imposed by the NHL)."
Hainsey did say the NHLPA plans to offer a counter-proposal to the NHL's latest offer -- commissioner Gary Bettman earlier in the week referred to it as 'significant' -- in the next few days and that the looming deadline has cranked up the intensity of the negotiations.
"Now we're working on a couple of frameworks so it's slightly easier to get counter-proposals back and forth," he said. "Obviously, a deadline is a deadline and as people move closer to one it obviously plays a part."
The days at the negotiating table can be long and mentally draining, but Hainsey said the sessions don't normally begin until 10 a.m. each day. That allows him to get in the fitness work he needs to do in order to be physically ready to go when training camps open.
"Don't worry," said Hainsey with a chuckle, "I keep my 205-pound figure year-round now. As you get older you realize it's easier to just take a week off than to take three months and then try to get in shape in two. There will be no problems with that."
And as much as the pressure to get a deal done might be all-consuming to some, Hainsey admitted he is fascinated by the process and by the business of the game. The significance of it all was also hammered home to him way back when he first broke into the league in 2002-03.
"If I didn't want to do it, I wouldn't have signed up," he said. "It's something players before me have done for the group and for future groups. When I first came into the league, my team in Montreal was an older team with Randy McKay and Doug Gilmour at the very end of their careers, Stephane Quintal, Joe Juneau, (Andreas) Dackell, Jeff Hackett... these guys were all 10-year-plus players at the time. And Saku Koivu and Craig Rivet were still not 30 yet but were on their way.
"Those guys were all great leaders and they all made sure to make clear to me the importance of this when I was 20 and first got there. Those guys were examples to me. I learned from an early point this was important and that's a big part of the reason I'm here doing it now.
"It's been a heck of a process. Not a day goes by where I don't learn something. I'm still hopeful we can get this thing done on time."
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