SUN Hockey Pool

Senators' Chris Neil: Players not in panic mode over lockout

Senators forward Chris Neil during an informal skate with fellow NHL players at the Sensplex in...

Senators forward Chris Neil during an informal skate with fellow NHL players at the Sensplex in Ottawa, Ont., Oct. 18, 2012. (ERROL McGIHON/QMI Agency)

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:29 AM ET

OTTAWA - Sooner or later, it was bound to happen. Somebody was going to snap, right? Odds are it would be Chris Neil, an emotional, passionate Canadian hockey player who does not suffer fools gladly.

Sure enough, observers at the Sensplex Thursday were bolted to attention as Neil interrupted the scrimmage by throwing his stick halfway across the rink high into the glass.

Less than an hour later, standing in the Kanata parking lot talking to reporters, the Senators’ all-time tough man looked down at his nicked-up hands and grimaced.

“I’ve got to get back to work soon,” he said, referring to his full-time job. “Doing woodwork (around the house) is tough on me.”

How ironic from a guy who has made millions partly by banging those same mitts off the face of opponents.

Asked if his earlier tantrum was the release of pent-up frustrations over the NHL lockout, Neil smiled.

“Oh no,” he said. “That was because Marc Methot was celebrating after he scored on me. I was just trying to have fun, keep it light out there.”

On the outside, at least, it appears players are nowhere near panic mode over the fact another league-imposed deadline — this one stating an 82-game season can only be salvaged if a deal was reached Thursday — has come and gone.

For one thing, they don’t understand why that has to be the case. If the NHL figured adding one game every five weeks to a schedule that began Nov. 2 was doable, why not squeeze in a couple more and start up a little later?

Then again, they’re having a hard time buying anything commissioner Gary Bettman is selling these days.

When U.S. resident Barack Obama says on Jay Leno’s show that the NHL owners and players should easily be able to reach an agreement on how to split billions of dollars generated by the fans, Americans everywhere must now know this dispute for what it is: The most ridiculous, senseless money-pull in the history of pro sports.

Canadians, or at least those who don’t play in the NHL, were already well aware of the greed involved.

“We went into this with a plan, and we were willing to give up lots,” said Senators centre Zack Smith. “We proposed that. We tried to meet them halfway, but it hasn’t been done and they’re not budging. We’re trying to make moves to get there and it just seems they don’t want to meet us.”

And if the owners never move?

“I think the only thing you can do right now is talk,” said Smith.

Yet the league refuses to do that, unless players want to discuss the latest offer put forth by Bettman and his bandits.

Anybody else hoping good, old Gary goes back to his roots by taking the NBA head job David Stern is retiring from in 16 months? For his $8-million salary, what else are Bettman’s responsibilities other than to make sure the NHL continues to function and move forward? Right now, it’s not even stuck in neutral, but losing countless of sickened fans every day.

All the while, Bettman says the problem is that players make too much money?

“There’s always that chance,” Neil said when asked about the possibility owners will NEVER budge. “But when you come into a rink, especially in Canada, you look at all these young kids and parents putting a lot of time and effort in. Those are future NHLers. That’s what you’re doing it for. I think that’s what a lot of people don’t realize. I think for fans in general, if you have a relative, or you have a kid that’s a decent hockey player and has a chance to make it .. this is what it’s about. You want to make sure things are in line for them.

“Past players did it for us, so obviously that’s what you’ve got to look at.”

Personally, I saw this coming the day the NHLPA brought in Don Fehr as its executive director. I remember how his help led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.

“I think we’ve got the right guy at the helm, and that’s what it’s about, having the right leadership,” argued Neil. “Revenues have gone up every year, from a billion-dollar industry to a $3.3-billion industry, and that says a lot.

“Hockey players are passionate about the game. We want to see it do well. And we do whatever we can to grow it.”

In the meantime, we wait and watch for one of the unemployed union brothers to snap at the Sensplex skate.

Neil says it’s not going to happen.

“No, we’re all in the same boat, so it’s one of those things where we’re just trying to occupy our time, stay in shape, do the best we can in light of the circumstances,” he said of their 3-4 times a week on-ice workouts. “Obviously, it’s frustrating for both sides, the owners and the players. Hopefully, they find some common ground and are able to get something done.”

We won’t hold our breath.

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @sundonib


Videos

Photos