A 'devastating' time

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:35 PM ET

ORLANDO, FLA. -- This is where the NHL lockout has left us, here in Central Florida on a misty day, Jeremy Roenick up on a podium trumpeting the merits of Nickent golf clubs, brandishing a new driver instead of driving somebody through the boards. "I wish I was playing, for sure. I've been going crazy without the game," said the Philadelphia Flyers' dynamic centre, who is over the concussion problems which dogged him in the fall.

"I'm feeling good. It's just going to take me a hell of a long time to get into shape after seven months of not being able to do anything. But I still feel like I can play this game. It'll take me a little while to get back into it, but my passion is still there.

"The question is, will the game still be there?

Roenick, who just turned 35, doesn't want to contemplate that this might be all there is for him now in his professional life, playing golf, schmoozing on behalf of companies like Nickent here at the PGA Merchandise Show and enjoying life in Phoenix, where he lives.

"JR" is usually one of the most upbeat and energetic people you'll meet, but he was remarkably sombre yesterday.

He knows the next few days are going to decide if he is going to play NHL hockey again.

TIME RUNNING OUT

"If a (deal isn't) done by (tomorrow night), I don't think we can get it going," he said. "Half the teams have half their team unsigned. We're going to need a week, a week-and-a-half to get players signed.

"Then you have the players in Europe who have to pack up and get back. Then you have housing issues. People might not have a place to stay and I'm one of them. I sold my house in Philly. If I go back, I have to find alternative housing. Then you're going to have to have some kind of training camp to get ready. There are just so many issues. We can't do it if we get into February."

Roenick said he still can't believe the NHL owners didn't accept the players' last offer.

He confirmed the association offered a deal that would give the owners their "cost certainty."

'GUARANTEED' OFFER

"We guaranteed it. If it did not do what we said it would do and put a drag down on salaries after three years, we would go to their system and accept a salary cap," said Roenick. "Something that's equal for both sides.

"We believe with the deal we offered them salaries would decrease, would drag and would in turn, create that cost certainty atmosphere for the owners to make more money. The salaries would not escalate as high. The average salary would probably drop a little bit, but still maintain a strong dollar for the second and third line player and still your top players are still going to be able to make $5, $6 million, which is a lot of money these days."

Roenick has been one of the best salesmen the NHL has had. He's outspoken and charismatic, two of the reasons why Nickent is happy to have him as a front man.

He is one of the game's biggest boosters and, when needed, one of its harshest critics.

If Jeremy Roenick is downcast, you know things are serious.

"This is devastating for the game. Not just the fact we're not playing, but the fact there's such tension between the two sides that a deal cannot be reached. Especially after how far the players have come and what we've given up. We've given up the 24%. We've actually stuck our neck out to offer them cost certainty.

"My main message right now is the game is more important than egos. The players need to give back what I think has gotten out of hand in terms of salaries. Our game is great, our game is popular, but not popular enough to control $8, $9 or $10-million salaries going out.

"The owners maybe have to be open to the idea of revenue sharing. They want to have a partnership with the players. They need to have a partnership with themselves."

Ever the salesman, he looked ahead to when the lockout ends.

"Put this in there: Because of all this, the owners and the players are going to have to find a way to give back to the fans, whether it's lower ticket prices, offering more packages, offering more TV exposure ... there has to be something so fans can say, ' This lockout was worth it because I got something out of it.'

"If we take the hockey the way it was during this period of time and keep it as is, it's going to be hard to get people back."

chris.stevenson@ott.sunpub.com 


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