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July 21, 2005 - Players anxious to get back to work

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Players anxious to get back to work

Bryan McCabe

TORONTO (CP) - Like many of his peers, Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Ken Klee chose Thursday to look ahead rather than look back.

"If we look at what we had and what we have now, are you disappointed some? Sure," he said of the league's labour landscape. "I think it's a deal that gives the owners and players a chance to grow the game and make it profitable for both sides.

"That was our concern with why it didn't work back in February when numbers were being lobbed back and forth. The problem was it gave no opportunity for up-side, it protected them from the down-side but it didn't give an opportunity for an up-side. I think this new deal gives us that opportunity."

The players voted overwhelmingly in favour of the deal, moving the NHL one huge step closer to officially ending the 301-day lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-'05 season. Some 225 players were in Toronto for the NHLPA vote, with the other 500 or so casting their ballots electronically.

"It's the best deal we're going to get now," said Ottawa Senators forward Mike Fisher. "There's no point sitting out any longer and hoping it would get better.

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"There were some guys that were upset and disappointed about how this happened in terms of the (salary) cap, but that's going to happen with 700 players. A lot of other guys were happy with the deal and just happy that it's over and that we're playing hockey again. We were in a tough battle with owners who held all the cards."

The NHLPA meeting started Wednesday with players getting their first look at the document. Talks went well into the night, with players still milling about with each other well past 1 a.m. EDT on Thursday.

"It was healthy," said Kevyn Adams, Carolina's player representative. "I was excited to see guys ask questions.

"I didn't leave the room until 2 a.m. last night. There was great banter, a real good dialogue. People got their questions answered."

Added Tampa's Martin St. Louis: "It was nice to see the details of the real deal instead of just what we've been reading in the papers."

That included reducing salaries in existing contracts by 24 per cent.

"I don't like the rollback, no question," said Columbus player rep Todd Marchant, whose salary will be $2.47 million US next season instead of $3.25 million. "No one's happy about that but it's something we had to do."

Philadelphia Flyers forward Keith Primeau said some players had "pointed questions," for NHL Players' Association executive director Bob Goodenow.

"More or less on how we got to where we got and putting our best foot forward in the fall," Primeau said. "His response which I thought was valid, was that there wasn't a stage to negotiate last fall and that's a fair assessment after you look at the fact we had presented the rollback late in the fall only to have that initially rejected."

Added Marchant: "To say it wasn't heated at times would be a misnomer but it was professional. People asked questions and got answers."

Primeau feels the agreement has some clauses that are beneficial to veteran players.

"I didn't get a sense from players, but personally, even the compensation for restricted free agents is a lot more liberal and you should see some greater movement of players," Primeau said. "Even a $2-million player, the compensation for signing him is a second-round draft pick.

"Would I trade a second-round pick for a $2 million player? The answer is yes."

Things got heated at times during the meeting Wednesday night. Veteran Toronto tough guy Tie Domi, for one, confronted Sean Avery of the Los Angeles Kings for being critical of the union leadership earlier this month. Domi was also angry with Detroit Red Wings goalie Manny Legace, who slammed the union negotiators last month.

"This deal is going to benefit guys like Sean Avery and Manny Legace - who wasn't here," Domi said before leaving Thursday. "It's easy to knock things, especially when things are getting settled, and that's the only thing I had an issue with.

"Speak your mind but don't do it when you haven't even played 100 games in the league. It just wasn't the time for any of those guys to speak up. If Manny Legace had some issues, where was he last night to speak about it? I give Sean Avery credit for being here.

"Manny Legace? I didn't know him, the only thing I knew about him was that he played 10 games when Dominik Hasek played 72 and they won a Stanley Cup. All of a sudden (Legace) is in the headlines for something he said."

Several players agreed with Klee that it was time to move on.

"People can look back and say `Why didn't we offer this in December?"' said Toronto player rep Bryan McCabe. "But this probably wasn't available in December or even February. It is what it is and we have to move on.

"Will this deal get better down the road if we turn this down?" he asked. "We've burned a season so is it really worth burning a second one? You really have to wonder."

Added Columbus defenceman Luke Richardson: "You can't look back. That was part of the problem.

"Some guys had problems with the answers to their questions. They want answers and won't let go of the past. You have to look into the future and be physically and mentally ready to play. We have to be prepared to grow this game because it is has been off the map for a year."

Richardson also stressed it's important the two sides realize just how damaging the lockout was to the game.

"What we learned for this is that there can not be another one of these (lockouts)," he said. "And there should not be another one and hopefully there never will be."