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September 16, 2004 - Flyers put season on the shelf

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Flyers put season on the shelf

By Marc Narducci, Inquirer Staff Writer

The words differed from player to player, but the the message and the mood were the same. Resignation, desperation, depression - and even anger - enveloped the locker room yesterday at the Skate Zone, the Flyers' practice facility in Voorhees, Camden County.

The eve of training camp normally is a time for players and coaches to renew old acquaintances. But yesterday, players were saying goodbyes, packing their bags, lugging equipment and staring at a future that is as uncertain as it is unsettling.

The NHL's Board of Governors announced yesterday the inevitable - that they have authorized a lockout, the league's first since the 1994-95 season. The lockout became official at midnight last night following the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement.

That means today's scheduled start of training camp for the Flyers will not happen. There is no timetable for negotiations. Nor does there seem to be much room for optimism.

So yesterday, many current and former Flyers packed their bags for  journey they never wanted to take.

"It kind of stinks packing up and moving out of here and trying to find somewhere else to work out and keep in shape," right wing Tony Amonte said.

Both sides seem determined not to budge. The owners seek a $31 million salary cap; the players want no part of that.

The NHL Players' Association has been warning members for years to save enough money - possibly for a rainy year or two. That time is here.

That meant a sense of finality for the Flyers as they went about their business yesterday. They say they don't have concrete plans for informal workouts yet; those, they say, will come in the next few days.

"Both sides are really ready and know what they want, and both ides are quite far apart," Flyers defenseman Eric Desjardins said. "I think that concerns everybody is to see how far apart we are and to see how strong both sides are in their opinion."

The players say they are sensitive to fans' feelings. They realize neither players nor owners will garner much sympathy from the paying public.

"It's hard to explain to a blue-collar worker or layman who goes out and works for his money every day that million-dollar players and million-dollar owners can't come to some sort of agreement," Flyers captain Keith Primeau said.

Former Flyer and current St. Louis Blues defenseman Eric Weinrich said he would miss the sport as much as the fans.

Weinrich, a 16-year veteran, has been a frequent workout participant this summer at the Skate Zone. He said he knew that people's livelihoods would be impacted by the lockout.

"I keep hearing the ones who are going to get hurt most are the fans," said Weinrich, who maintains a home in South Jersey.

"I can tell you I am hurting as much as anybody, just for the love of the game," he said. "For us to say the fans are going to be hurt the most, I'd be lying - because I'm definitely hurting."

Flyers left wing John LeClair said he worried that in Philadelphia, fans might not notice the absence of the game until mid-winter. For one good reason: the Eagles.

"It's going to hurt [the sport of hockey]," LeClair said. "It's not going to hurt it [in the Philadelphia area] until January.

"You open the paper and look to radio or TV around here and the first thing you hear is Eagles. I don't really think it is going to be a big concern. It's not going to be a big hit for quite some time, but eventually it is going to affect the game."

And no doubt by seeing the dour expressions in the locker room, it has already severely affected the players.