Memories of NHL labor battle linger in players' minds

With any luck, terms like hockey-related revenues, variance, defined-benefit pension, make-whole provision and disclaimer of interest will soon seem like nothing but murmurs from an old nightmare.

But on Monday, as several members of the Kings skated in El Segundo with Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres and George Parros of the Florida Panthers to prepare for the soon-to-be determined start of training camp, they were still rehashing aspects of the tentative labor agreement between the NHL and the players’ association.

If the final wording of the agreement and the ratification process go without a hitch, the season will open Jan. 19 for a 48-game schedule featuring intraconference games.

“It’s been a long four months but we’re happy that there’s an agreement and we’re looking forward to putting the game back on the ice and out of the board room,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said.

Winger Justin Williams spent the first few locked-out months in New Jersey but came back to Los Angeles in late November to get reacclimated for the season. As it turned out, he had plenty of time.

“I felt the season would start around then. I was a little bit wrong,” he said Monday.

But Williams said he didn’t get discouraged even when the dispute spilled past Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

“I always knew in the back of my mind that it was too stupid to cancel the season over the issues that we had,” he said. “I was happy that I was right. It took a little more time than I thought it would but we got the right deal for us.”

Parros, a former member of the Ducks and Kings, was involved in several negotiating sessions, including the 16-hour finale in New York that ended Sunday morning. He said neither side got everything it wanted but each got a deal it can live with.

“I’m happy with the way our union acted and behaved and the way we stuck together,” said Parros, who has an economics degree from Princeton. “We were very resolute and although I think there’s compromise on both sides, I’m sure this isn’t where we expected to be this far along. But I think it was the best deal given the circumstances at this time.”

He said the final negotiations “were intense because of the stakes but it wasn’t as run-and-gun as some of the  other meetings had been, because they had dragged out for long days a few days there. The intensity just came from the gravity of the situation.”

He credited NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr for keeping members educated and informed at every step. Parros said players were particularly happy about getting a defined-benefits pension, a provision they emphatically pursued.

“The pension’s an incredible feat on our part. Credit Don Fehr with that. It was his idea,” Parros said. “He brought it up to us from the early get-go and it’s really the one thing we can hang our hat on as players. It’s the one thing we’ve gained out of all of this and it really is going to set up all of us in the future for some security. I think there’s tons of players that don’t realize it now but they’re going to be thankful that we fought for this in future years.”

Parros also said Fehr was a strong and effective leader for the players.

“There’s no doubt in my mind Don Fehr saved this union, saved the game. He was a burr in their side, I think, a bit, but what he did was absolutely incredible [given] the shambles our union was in, not too early before these negotiations took place,” Parros said.

“He came in and cleaned us up and turned us into one of the most knowledgeable unions I think that’s been around. Every player in the board room, every player in our meeting rooms knew exactly what was gong on. We were fully aware of the weight of our choices and we were educated on all the systems. It was truly incredible what Don did and that should never be overlooked, and I think that those involved saw it happen every day. He did a great job and he’s a brilliant man.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and owners might have other descriptions in mind when they think of Fehr, but Kings center Jarret Stoll said it’s time for everyone involved to move on.

“None of this was good for anybody. Let’s be honest,” Stoll said. “It was tough on the game and tough on every team, including our team. Some guys needed the extra time but at the end of the day we didn’t want a lockout. We didn’t need a lockout but we’re past that stage now and we’ve got to look forward to the future.”


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