SUN Hockey Pool

Manitoba NHLers dazed, confused and angry, too

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:54 AM ET

As much as they'd been warned the season could be cancelled, some of our Manitoba-born NHLers still reacted to the news like they'd been butt-ended in the mid-section.

Winnipeggers Mike Leclerc and James Patrick, along with Marty Murray of Lyleton, Shane Hnidy of Neepawa and Brandon's Bryce Salvador had their hopes up they might still play this year, based on 11th-hour negotiations.

Yesterday, the door was slammed shut, and many of the players blamed the man who officially slammed it: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

"It's Gary's claim to fame now," a sarcastic Leclerc, a Mighty Ducks forward, said from Anaheim. "He should be proud of himself."

"Basically, it pisses me off," added Hnidy, a defenceman with Nashville who's living in Florida. "No doubt in my mind the owners and Gary Bettman had no plans to play this season."

That's the majority opinion, as players point to all the concessions they made, compared with the owners.

"First we gave a quarter of our salary back," Hnidy said, referring to a 24% rollback on salaries. "Then we compromised down to a (salary) cap for them. Then we compromised down more on that cap. The players tried. It's frustrating. We want to play hockey."

But they won't. Not this spring, and maybe not next fall, either, as the two sides remain as far apart as ever.

That's a far cry from the progress that was made in the previous 48 hours, when they appeared to be separated by just $6.5 million -- the difference in their latest salary cap proposals.

"I just had a sick feeling in my stomach, watching it," Patrick, the 20-year veteran defenceman, said from his home in Buffalo. "I was just totally convinced that if both sides were that close, they would go the extra mile. For Bettman to blame that on (union boss Bob) Goodenow ... it's just a complete lack of leadership and direction from him."

Over in St. Louis, Salvador sounded almost relieved, saying the league might be better off just scrapping the year, as opposed to cobbling together a short season.

"Had we got a deal and come back to play, the product might not have been that good anyway, with all the resentment," the Blues defenceman said.

And finally, at his home near Minot, N.D., Murray marked his 30th birthday with this sombre realization.

"It's a sad day for hockey," Murray, with the Carolina Hurricanes last year, said. "I didn't think it would ever come to this.

"Where do we go from here? That's a question that's on everybody's mind."

Where, indeed.

Nobody expects negotiations to resume any time soon.

And with both sides pulling their latest offers from the table, they'll be starting from scratch again, whenever they do.

There's already speculation the NHL will try to break the union and hire replacement players next season.

"I don't see it getting any prettier," Leclerc said.

Neither do we.


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