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SUNDAY NO FUNDAY: NHL Locks Out Players for Third Time since 1994

BY GEORGE RICHARDS
grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

There was no last second deal as the National Hockey League locked out its players for the third time since 1994 at midnight on Sunday.

The NHL and its players' association have had little to talk about the past few days as the proposals both have offered for a new collective bargaining agreement are far apart.

Although representatives from both sides spoke over the phone on Saturday, no formal negotiations took place.

"It takes two to negotiate. If [the owners] don't care what we have to say, a deal will never get done,'' Florida forward George Parros said on Thursday afternoon. "We need two parties to get something done. If it's falling on deaf ears, we're in trouble.''

Players are now barred from having any interaction with their clubs and, unless they are rehabilitating injuries suffered while playing, aren't allowed to use team facilities.

When a number of Panthers arrive at their training facility to continue their offseason workouts on Monday, they will likely find the key cards that get them into the rear parking lot and into the complex have been deactivated.

"We're going to be on our own,'' defenseman Tyson Strachan said with a smile. "We're professional athletes and it's on us to stay in shape as long as we're out. And we will.''

Players will still skate at the Coral Springs Iceplex on Monday morning, but they will do so without the use of their locker room or workout facilities. Players will likely come in side entrances and use locker rooms normally used by youth teams and beer league players.

"I think disappointment is the biggest feeling. We want to be playing, but we need an agreement that's strong for us and strong for the league,'' Strachan said.

"We're moving forward as a strong union for what we think is best for the league. Look at the other sports and how they negotiated. I can't say I'm surprised we've come to this yet there are record revenues being reported. We want to help grow the sport but we need a deal that helps us both.''

There are a number of differences in both proposals, but money is the issue here.

The NHLPA feels it made a number of concessions when the last CBA was signed in 2005 -- after the entire 2004-05 season was lost to a lockout -- and doesn't want to take many more.

The NHL, which rolled salaries back 24 percent and got a hard salary cap instituted in 2005, argues the players are taking too big of a cut from its revenue and wants to pare the players' piece of the action down considerably.

Players received about 57 percent of revenues created by the league; last year, the NHL brought in a record $3.3 billion in revenue as this season's salary cap was expected to be around $70 million.

The first salary cap in 2005-06 was $39 million -- less than what the current salary floor was last season. The Panthers, with a few moves left to make, already have $54 million committed to contracts for this coming season.

The current offer from owners gives players less than 50 percent of revenue.

"Hockey is poised to really move over the next few years to a fundamentally different place than it's been before," NHLPA boss Donald Fehr said Thursday.

"The question is whether the dispute we're having is going to screw that up. If so, that's bad and that's unfortunate. We ought to be doing what we can to avoid it."

The last time players were locked out, there was plenty of dissension among players as they scattered to play around the globe. Some players went off to Europe while others opted to stay home and play in lesser North American leagues.

There doesn't seem to be any sense of desperation on the players' part this time around for a number of reasons.

First, many think the two sides aren't as far apart as things appear. Secondly, thanks to an escrow payment plan instituted by the NHL in the previous CBA, players have money waiting for them. Unlike in 2005, decent sized checks will be arriving soon enough.

Sometime next month, players will be receiving escrow checks which equal eight percent of last year's salary.

"It's unfortunate that this had to happen what with the success the league is having,'' said former Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, now with Calgary. "You hate to see [the owners] go back to that well. It's another give-back and it doesn't solve anything because we'll be in the same spot a few years down the road. We're trying to fix the system so we have some stability.''

And, although the CBA expired Sept. 15, training camps weren't scheduled to open for another week. Teams around the league have cancelled rookie camps because of the lockout, yet training camp could theoretically open on time if a deal is struck this week.

Florida players such as Stephen Weiss and Dmitry Kulikov have spoke about finding a place to play if the lockout goes on for an extended period of time, yet others say they will continue to work out on their own and with other teammates who live in South Florida.

"If we're not going to start camp on time, it's disappointing, for sure,'' Weiss said. "We're all training all summer to be ready to play and if we don't get that opportunity, it's disappointing. But I'm optimistic that we'll get a deal done sooner than later. .-.-. There's smart enough people involved in this thing that I don't think it'll take too long.

"We just have to make sure whatever deal they do agree on, it makes sense for both sides and it will be lasting."

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