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NHL could be facing more CBA drama

| Monday, April 30, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby against the Flyers at Consol Energy Center April 20, 2012.
Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby against the Flyers at Consol Energy Center April 20, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

It could hinder Sidney Crosby's next contract with the Penguins, the organization's decision to sign or trade Jordan Staal and even general manager Ray Shero's ability to make minor transactions.

Actually, it could change everything.

The NHL's collective bargaining agreement expires in September. Anything from a smooth agreement to a work stoppage is in play.

“Both sides are optimistic something will get done,” Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “There's too much to lose after the last work stoppage that we had.”

The NHL lost the 2004-05 season because of a lockout that changed the game in many ways. Fans surely were lost, but others were gained after the league made rule changes that yielded more scoring.

There is a sentiment from players that, unlike in previous negotiations, they will emerge on a more even playing field following this deal.

“We made a lot of concessions in 2004,” left wing Steve Sullivan said. “(Owners) got everything they wanted. I don't know what they could ask for this time.”

This much is known:

• Many players are expecting the start of the 2012-13 season to be delayed.

• Unlike negotiations eight years ago, the players sense that owners are not on the same page.

• The NHL Players Association asked for data to support the realignment proposal during the regular season, and the NHL did not provide any. In fact, the NHLPA was told that the NHL does not possess any data relating to realignment.

• The Penguins — despite enormous resources from billionaire co-owner Ron Burkle and five consecutive seasons of sellouts — are adamant that the salary cap must remain in place. They don't want to see a significant jump to the cap number, even if such a scenario would prohibit them from signing one of their top players.

“I wouldn't say I'm concerned about it, but I'm definitely interested in it,” Orpik said. “Everybody's interested in it. We've had quite a few meetings in the last two or three months. We've had quite a few meetings that almost the whole team attended.”

The most prominent name this summer will be a familiar one to CBA negotiations. Donald Fehr, often vilified for his role in the stoppage of the 1994 baseball season, now runs the NHLPA.

“He's a really knowledgeable guy,” Orpik said. “It's basically just been grabbing his ideas and seeing what he thinks is ahead for us.”

The NHL created a realignment plan in December that was to begin during the 2012-13 season. But the players balked at the idea, largely because of the NHL's inability to provide data regarding the possibility of additional travel.

Next season's schedule and alignment will look similar to this year's.

Shero said he will conduct “business as usual” this summer. Other issues that are sure to gain attention during negotiations are player safety and the salary cap.

Mathieu Schneider, Fehr's special assistant and a former NHL defenseman, is aware that another work stoppage could halt the league's momentum.

“I have to think back to the last time there was this type of buzz around the game,” Schneider said. “And it was 1994 when the (New York) Rangers won the (Stanley) Cup.”

Then came a lockout that cut the 1994-95 season in half. Another followed nine years later.

All parties involved are hoping to avoid such a fate.

Said Orpik: “It will get more intense in the next couple of months.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-664-9161, Ext. 1975.

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