NHLers united in struggle

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

About the only thing missing from the conclusion of the NHL Players' Association meeting yesterday at the Westin Harbour Castle was the 150-plus players gathering themselves on Front St. and marching away arm-in-arm.

If there were any doubts as to whether there is full solidarity in the NHLPA, the players who attended, as expected, put on a united front to diffuse those sentiments. Oh, and another thing ... they're all behind union boss Bob Goodenow.

"I think this so-called splinter faction in the union has been drummed up by media members and people trying to hope a deal gets done," St. Louis Blues defenceman Chris Pronger said. "Coming out of this meeting I can unequivocally say that everybody in there is on board and understands the issues."

That was echoed by the Detroit RedWings' Brendan Shanahan, among others, who used the analogy of what happens during a game.

"Sometimes you're not happy with the team's performance, and you might get in the dressing room and argue a bit about it and discuss what you can do better," Shanahan said. "But when you come out for the next game, you are a team again. And that's what has happened over these (past) two days.

"The ink (on a new deal) will come from (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow. We have complete faith in (Goodenow). Our executive committee was hand-picked by us and we have complete faith in them."

To paint the NHLPA meeting that began with dinner Monday night and ended just after the noon hour yesterday as a veritable love-in, though, would be wrong.

While players didn't throw punches at each other, they didn't deny there were plenty of emotional moments.

"For there to be no emotion, or have no heated (discussions), is just not who we are," Maple Leafs defenceman Ken Klee said. "If there was no emotion, I would be shocked. We are not robots."

Subscribing to Pronger's assertion that a splinter group was borne out of the media's imagination also would be incorrect.

It has been reported that Pronger, Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames and Jeremy Roenick of the Philadelphia Flyers were part of a group which directly contacted NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly a few weeks ago.

NHLPA executive committee member Trent Klatt acknowledged yesterday that Roenick said sorry to the assembled players.

"The rest of it was addressed more casually, but J.R. did get up and apologize," Klatt said. "They understood they made a mistake and it didn't help the process. Going forward, I fully expect that not to happen (again)."

So what is the players' next step? Sit tight and stay committed to each other.

"It's important for both sides to take a little time to reassess," NHLPA president Trevor Linden said. "The process at this point hasn't worked. To reflect, to decide which way to go, I think is important."

That undoubtedly was espoused in the meeting by Goodenow, who will meet with player agents today.

"A deal will eventually, some day, get done," Goodenow said. "It's just going to take time. It has to be the right deal for both sides and, as everybody knows, the right deal hasn't materialized."


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