The players have been playing their cards extremely close to the vest, but if the responses at a charity game involving locked out players is any indication, you can expect them to vote overwhelmingly in favor of giving their executive committee the authority to file a disclaimer of interest this week.
At the RBC Play Hockey Charity Challenge in Toronto Thursday night, a total of 14 players were asked whether or not they voted in favor of the move. Only Steven Stamkos and Steve Ott said they did. Another two players said they did, but did not want to be identified. Ten others declined to disclose how they voted.
“Damn right I did,” Ott said when asked if he voted yes. “Our stance is pretty strong that we want to have a good deal and this is the proper route to right the ship.”
Stamkos also said he voted in favor of the move, saying the players are frustrated that they’ve made concessions and continually tried to communicate with the league only to be rebuffed.
“We feel like we have no other choice right now,” Stamkos said. “We feel like we’ve done our part and we’ll see what transpires over the next couple of weeks. We’re in this process and we all wish we could have something much earlier, but we have to deal with what’s in front of us.”
The game featured one team captained by Stamkos and another by P.K Subban of the Montreal Canadiens that raised $100,000 for grassroots minor hockey initiatives in Canada, but the lockout was the primary topic of conversation. Stamkos said it was difficult to avoid the topic both inside and outside the dressing room. One of the players involved in the game said every player he spoke with had either voted in favor of disclaimer of interest or intended to do so by the time voting wraps up Thursday.
“We’re a very close knit group,” one player said. “That should tell you which way guys are thinking.”
Subban, who is normally an outspoken player on almost any issue, declined to disclose his vote. “Maybe away from the cameras I would tell you how I voted,” Subban said. “Psyche! I’d never tell you how I voted.”
NHL Players’ Association executive director Don Fehr would not speak about the vote, but did offer that the players are ready to negotiate anytime. He said the players invited the group of owners that was on hand for talks in New York in early December to meet with a group of players, along with himself and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in the room. When asked why the two sides were not talking at the moment, Fehr replied, “because the owners have not indicated a desire to resume.”
And that, said the players, is the major stumbling block at the moment for both sides.
“I’m not an expert on collective bargaining, but we’re not going to get a deal done until we’re sitting across the table from each other,” said Joffrey Lupul of the Toronto Maple Leafs. “We want to talk every day and we’re free every day. If Gary wants us to come over to his house, we’ll go right over to his house. We’ll talk every day. Christmas Day if they want.”
Ott, who has yet to play for the Buffalo Sabres after he was traded there last summer, was probably one of the more frustrated players in the group.
“To see the give, give, give and give more without any give back is frustrating,” Ott said. “I truly think there’s a deal to be made. They had a scripted stance it seems, and that’s pretty evident with the way things have gone on. It’s terrible to see the propaganda because it’s not fair to the fans.”