VANCOUVER - As competition goes, it's not exactly the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final.
But Kevin Bieksa, fellow Vancouver Canucks and some other NHLers are coveting the chance for some rare game action Wednesday as they take on the host University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in a charity contest. The game, dubbed Bieksa's Buddies, will raise funds for three Canuck charities.
"It's fun to play a meaningful game," said Bieksa after some Canucks and other NHLers held an informal skate at UBC. "For some of us, this is going to be, possibly, the only chance we get to play a meaningful game this year."
Bieksa made the comment knowing the NHL had tabled a new offer earlier in the day. The proposed deal calls for the league and players to split revenues 50-50. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also wants to raise the minimum age before a player can become eligible for unrestricted free agency to 28 from 27.
However, Bieksa and his peers were taking a wait-and-see approach while expressing skepticism about the legitimacy of the offer. The charity game, which is already soldout, marks a temporary truce of sorts between Vancouver players and management.
Bieksa said players are aiming to have a lot of fun, but are also feeling "antsy" as they look forward to getting on the ice in a real-game setting.
"There's not a whole lot of messages that we're trying to send," said Bieksa. "I'm offering an opportunity to fans to get some entertainment at a good price going toward three great organizations. So there's no hidden meaning. It's just playing a hockey game, giving fans some entertainment and making some money for charity."
With the league's new offer, the game appeared to take on some added meaning and increased importance in terms of conditioning. Bettman is proposing that a full 82-game season commence Nov. 2.
Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis was glad to see the NHL make a move on an economic issue after the sides spent weeks discussing secondary matters, but said the proposed 50-50 split "means nothing" until more is known about it. Consequently, the game's importance also remains unknown.
"It could be a long road yet," he said. "We don't know what their proposal is yet. Everyone's all excited about 50-50, but no one knows what 50-50 means. So we have to figure that out first."
He said the charity contest gives players a chance to play a full 60-minute game, but not much more.
"It's not going to be overly competitive, but will have a little more structure than our practice time," he said.
The Canucks have been skating mostly on their own informally at UBC since the lockout began Sept. 15, but have worked out with the Thunderbirds under coaches on at least one occasion.
Fans were so keen to attend the game that some have paid hefty premiums to scalpers for tickets, much to the anger of Canuck players. But Hamhuis said he and his mates are not trying to convey a special message to their supporters by participating in this game.
"Our message has been the same all along," he said. "This isn't our lockout. It's the owners' (lockout). They're the ones that are keeping us out of the game right now. It's not us. We're not striking. But we're trying to make the best of a bad situation for charities, who are hurting because of what Gary Bettman is doing."
Net proceeds from the game will be split between Canuck Place Children’s Hospice, Canucks Autism Network, and the Canucks Family Education Centre. Other Vancouver players taking part include Daniel and Henrik Sedin, and goaltender Cory Schneider.
Schneider said the game is a great opportunity for fans to see Canucks in action, but the proposal does not give the game added meaning.
"This is something that we've been looking forward to for weeks," he said. "This proposal doesn't mean that a deal is imminent," he said. "It's just a good sign."
Notes: Schneider will be his club's lone goaltender. Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer has been working out with Vancouver players as he visits his in-laws, but will not take part. ... Other participating NHLers include Los Angeles Kings defenceman Willie Mitchell and Pittsburgh Penguins winger Tanner Glass, who are both former Canucks.