VANCOUVER – This time, Trevor Linden is just an interested observer.
But the former NHL Players Association president does not like what he sees as another lockout rolls on.
“It’s disappointing to see the game not being where it should be—and that’s on the ice,” he said Thursday. “I follow (the dispute), but it’s not my issue anymore. So I’m happy to be on the sidelines.”
Linden made his comments around the same time league and NHLPA officials emerged from a second day of unsuccessful mediation efforts and commissioner Gary Bettman proposed that leaders from both sides step aside from the talks and be replaced by owners and players.
The former Vancouver Canucks’ captain led the players union during the 2004-05 lockout that resulted in an entire season being scrapped for the first time in NHL history. He was active in the negotiations then and, in the following summer, helped negotiate an end to the dispute that led to the collective bargaining agreement that expired Sept. 15.
Linden, who retired in 2008 following 19 seasons with the Canucks, New York Islanders and Montreal Canadians, was reluctant to discuss the current lockout in detail, but shares the feeling of many fans. He faced heavy criticism from owners and players in 2004-05 as the standoff divided the NHLPA and led to the departure of union head Bob Goodenow.
“At that point, (the scrapping of the season) didn’t shock me,” Linden said. “It was a massive philosophical divide. It was a huge philosophical divide on the economics of the game.…This isn’t.”
The core of the dispute then was a proposed salary cap which has since been implemented and helped the NHL reap a record $3.3 billion in revenues last season. The current impasse relates to a disagreement over revenue sharing between owners, the guaranteeing of contracts signed under the previous collective bargaining agreement and other issues.
The NHLPA, now led by Donald Fehr, no longer has a player who serves as president. The organization has been restructured and, from the players’ perspective, is led by a negotiation committee that consists of representatives from all teams.
But if Linden had to reprise his role in negotiations, he would.
“It’s one of those things, if I had it to do over again, I’d definitely be involved,” he said. “As hard as it was, I enjoyed being part of it and understanding the business of hockey. “It was a difficult time, but I enjoyed being part of the process.”
Linden made his comments following a Vancouver Giants news conference at the Pacific Coliseum, where he toiled with the Canucks for many seasons before they moved to the downtown facility now known as Rogers Arena. The Giants, who now call the Coliseum home, will honour Linden during their game Saturday against the Tri-City Americans in tribute to his glory years at the arena, where he helped the Canucks qualify for the 1994 Stanley Cup final against the New York Rangers.
Since his retirement, Linden has stayed outside the game, pursuing business interests that include a chain of fitness centres and real estate development while also taking part in public-speaking engagements and many charitable activities. He enjoys the opportunity to create his own schedule and take a long weekend off, but does not rule out a return to hockey in some capacity.
“The game has been with me for a long time,” said the 42-year-old Medicine Hat, Alta., native who lives in Vancouver and is still revered by Canuck fans. “If the right opportunity came about, you never know.”