SUN Hockey Pool

What's a player to do?

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

To play or not to play?

That, as it relates to locked-out players accepting employment in the AHL, will become the question for NHLPA members as the lockout, now in its 64th day, drags on.

It'll become an even more significant issue if the NHL season is cancelled and players are faced with deciding if they'll sit out the impasse, pursue options in Europe or attempt to find work in North America.

Raffi Torres of the Edmonton Oilers weighed his options and signed an AHL contract to play with the Road Runners, who are owned by the Oilers.

Former Oiler Jason Chimera, now with the Phoenix Coyotes, says he'll sit out rather than take a job with the Utah Grizzlies, Phoenix's AHL affiliate.

"I just believe, as part of the union, I shouldn't go down to the AHL," said Chimera, who has been skating at the Knights of Columbus Twin Arenas.

"I didn't believe it was right to go down. Phoenix is affiliated with Utah, and the organization runs that team, so I just don't believe it's right to go."

AHL rosters are laden with NHL players on entry-level contracts. Jarret Stoll, with the Road Runners since the start of the season, is one. Jay Bouwmeester and Stephen Weiss of the Florida Panthers are with San Antonio. Scottie Upshall is in Milwaukee and Joffrey Lupul is in Cincinnati.

Torres and Chimera, while both considered young, developing players, aren't on entry-level contracts.

SECOND PRO CONTRACT

Torres, 23, signed his second pro contract in September. He broke into the pro ranks in 2001-02 with Bridgeport of the AHL. He's played 111 NHL games.

Chimera, 25, turned pro in 1999-2000 with the Hamilton Bulldogs. He's played 130 NHL games. At this point in his career he could argue, as Torres did, sitting out will hurt his development.

"Going probably would've been my best option, but I didn't feel it was right," said Chimera, offered a spot in Utah three weeks ago. "It's a difficult situation right now."

It can be argued Torres, who's been going great guns since joining the Road Runners, is putting fans in the stands at Rexall Place and money in the pockets of Oilers ownership.

"They're making money for owners who aren't letting us play," opines Ethan Moreau, who shares duties as Oilers NHLPA rep with captain Jason Smith and Steve Staios.

"Where it gets tricky is if you're a young guy and you want to continue your development and want to play a North American style of game.

"You don't like to see it.

"You'd rather guys go to Europe, but there's a little bit of leeway for a young guy like Raffi who just started to play and doesn't want to fall behind."

Close to 300 players have opted for Europe. More will follow. Others will consider the AHL. Oilers defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron is doing so right now.

"At the end of the day, I don't think it weakens our position if five or 10 guys on NHL contracts play in the minors," said Moreau, who skates alongside Chimera at KC.

"It doesn't change negotiations. It doesn't change bargaining power. All the financial pressure points are the same. It's just more of a symbol saying, 'We can't support the NHL because they've locked us out.'

WHATEVER YOU WANT

"You can do whatever you want. That's why we have guys who are outspoken and have their opinions. We don't impose fines on people like the NHL does."

While Torres toils in the AHL, Chimera will stick to shinny sessions and wait for Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow to get down to bargaining.

"It's ultimately in the player's hands," Chimera said.

"The PA isn't putting handcuffs on anybody and telling them where not to go. I don't know what happened with Raffi's situation, but I just didn't think it was right for me to go down."


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