TORONTO - A group of Maple Leafs looked all dressed up on Thursday morning — with no place to go.
Up to 10 were on the ice or in the weight room with their Marlie understudies for an intense workout and scrimmage game at their suburban Toronto practice facility. But the excitement of being back this week is tempered by the looming lockout on Sept. 15.
With no talks planned between the Players Association and the league for at least the next few days, it’s expected the Sept. 21 official start of Leafs’ training camp will be pushed back. After that, exhibition games would be chopped and then the ominous countdown to the Oct. 11 season opener, which many now see as the “pressure point” of talks, when player pay cheques and team revenue would start to dry up.
USA Today reports the players are going to be briefed on coping with life after the shutdown when many gather in New York on Sept. 12-13 for general meetings. The newspaper says those present will receive an info package entitled ‘How Does A Lockout Affect Me?’, dealing with such thorny issues as playing in other leagues and how players currently injured are compensated during the freeze.
The NHL board of governors meets Sept. 13 in New York, where it’s expected they’ll back commissioner Gary Bettman’s threat to chain the doors two days later.
“We (players) are preparing as if there is going to be a season,” said Leaf defenceman Mike Komisarek. “We’re all professionals, everyone’s doing what they have to do, on and off the ice, putting in the work. No one is taking their foot off the pedal in case the season doesn’t start on time.
“Many of our guys are going to the meetings in New York and we’ll have a better understanding of what’s going on by then.”
More than 20 Leafs, Marlies and special guests took in Thursday’s informal workout, including a bearded Phil Kessel, newly re-signed forward Nikolai Kulemin, Tyler Bozak, Clarke MacArthur and free agent forward Jay McClement.
A player such as Ben Scrivens has a lot more at stake if the NHL season is delayed. In the absence of a veteran goalie , he was hoping to challenge James Reimer for the No. 1 job.
The players did try a pre-emptive negotiating ploy by offering to work with the richer clubs to help the struggling franchises, which the league hopes to prop up at the union’s expense. But the various player proposals come back to a 57% share of hockey-related revenue at some later stage in the new CBA. Owners are determined that number won’t exceed the mid-40s.
“(Executive director) Don Fehr and our committee have put in a lot of work,” Komisarek said. “They’ve been away from their families and their friends in the summertime to try and make this work. This is my second lockout and guys are a lot more prepared, a lot more informed.”
Perhaps something in that memo the players get next week will prepare them for fan wrath when the third lockout in 18 years begins. Komisarek thinks deep down, paying customers identify with the rank and file.
“Players and fans share the same passion for the game,” he said. “We ourselves grew up fans of certain players and teams. Everyone remembers certain highlights and video captures it very well, the raw emotion and how deep this game can touch you. That’s evident in the way our guys play the game.”
McClement thinks he’s a good fit
A steady parade of checking forwards has come through Toronto the past few years, Tim Brent, Joey Crabb, Philippe Dupuis, Darryl Boyce and Jay Rosehill to name a few.
Many were unheralded minor leaguers who helped the cause, in some cases more than higher-priced help, but not enough to warrant long-term investment. Jay McClement hopes to stay awhile and given his seven-year resume in the NHL and his affordable price ($1.5 million US this year and next), this could be the ideal location. Where some unrestricted free agents are leery of the constantly rebuilding Leafs, never mind the external pressures, McClement was happy to jump from Colorado.
“There’s obviously good young talent here and lots of prospects knocking at the door,” McClement said Thursday after an informal workout with 20 Leafs and Marlies. “I went through this same thing in St. Louis and Colorado. I thought it was a good mix for me to come in as a veteran. I talked to (coach) Randy Carlyle and thought it was really good fit for me.”
The centre and penalty killing enthusiast was a second-round pick of the Blues and has the 2004-05 lockout to thank for his NHL ticket. With the cancellation of 2004-05, he spent an extra AHL year in Worcester under the eye of Blues’ head coach Mike Kitchen. McClement earned full-time minutes when the NHL resumed and stayed until a swap with the Avalanche in February of 2011.
“It was tough in Colorado. They already had three good young centres.”
He and David Steckel will likely be in the third-fourth line picture at centre for the Leafs, though Matthew Lombardi, Tyler Bozak and Tim Connolly might end up in the middle, too.