Burkle's arrival at labor talks offers hope to Penguins players
Feeling resentment toward certain NHL owners is currently commonplace among NHL players, especially for a loyal union man like Penguins left wing Matt Cooke.
Penguins owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux, however, were loyal to Cooke during perhaps the most difficult time of his life. And Cooke's respect for them remains.
Burkle will attempt to jump-start labor negotiations Tuesday in New York as part of a small NHL committee that will meet with a handful of players. Cooke and many teammates said they believe Burkle's presence gives negotiations a fresh hope.
“I have nothing but praise for Ron and Mario,” Cooke said. “Obviously, with what I went through, their support and their ability to communicate with me in a constructive manner and standing beside me for all the stuff I went through … I'd say I have a great relationship with them.”
Cooke was referring to his 17-game suspension that concluded his 2010-11 season and the subsequent summer of change he underwent. The veteran became a different player and a better man during that summer, and team ownership was behind him.
“Ron's been great every time I've had a conversation with him,” Cooke said. “Every time we're in L.A., he brings us to his house. When we're somewhere when he can be around, he's there. It's always great to see him, and it's great to see that he's going to be there (in New York on Tuesday).”
The Penguins speak highly of their ownership, and that has not changed despite the lockout. Burkle and Lemieux are considered moderates in NHL circles — certainly not hard line, anti-union figures such as Boston's Jeremy Jacobs and Washington's Ted Leonsis.
Many Penguins called for “new blood” in the next installment of negotiations. Burkle is no stranger to negotiating, but this is the first time he has involved himself in the NHL dispute.
“Just from dealing with him in the past,” defenseman Ben Lovejoy said, “I'd say we're all feeling pretty optimistic about him being involved.”
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who maintains a strong relationship with Burkle and former landlord Lemieux, is one of the several players expected to attend the meetings.
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.