Players shrug off Devellano comments, focus on staying fresh

Jason Spezza chose to take the high road Monday, opting not to get into a loud verbal fight with Detroit Red Wings senior vice-president Jim Devellano.

Players shrug off Devellano comments, focus on staying fresh
Ottawa Senators winger Erik Condra hasn't signed on to play anywhere else yet. (Wayne Cuddington/Ottawa Citizen)

Jason Spezza chose to take the high road Monday, opting not to get into a loud verbal fight with Detroit Red Wings senior vice-president Jim Devellano.

“It’s not right what he said, but you can’t take it personally,” Spezza said. “He’s an emotional hockey guy. We’re in a work stoppage here. We’re getting locked out. Guys are probably angry. Their side is angry. You just can’t let the emotions get the better of you.”

In a colourful, controversial interview with the Island Sports News, Devellano opined that owners were akin to ranchers and players were similar to cattle.

“The owners can basically be viewed as the Ranch, and the players and me included, are the cattle,” said Devellano. “The owners own the Ranch and allow the players to eat there. That’s the way it has always been and that’s the way it will be forever. And the owners simply aren’t going to let a union push them around. It’s not going to happen.”

As offensive and costly as the comments were – NHL commissioner Gary Bettman subsequently smacked Devellano with a $250,000 fine – Spezza shrugged his shoulders. Labour negotiations, he says, are ugly.

“There are going to be lots of things said. It’s messy, when you’re out of work. It’s not pretty. The two sides are not going to get along until a deal is done. I don’t really pay too much attention to what’s being said, whether it’s from management, owners, whoever. Everybody generally just wants to see the game back and healthy and going.”

While there’s a growing fear among fans that the full 2012-13 season could be lost to the lockout, Spezza remains optimistic that the owners and players can reach a deal in time to save most, if not all, of the regular season.

“I still hold out hope that once we get to the point where they have to cancel regular season games, hopefully that’s a bit of a pressure point to get things done,” said Spezza, who is scheduled to fly from Ottawa to Zurich Tuesday and then join the Rapperswil-Jona Lakers of the Swiss League. “I expected this to be a quiet time. I would imagine both sides are going over their game plans a little bit, in how they want to approach it and figure out a way. For us, it’s just about trying to find a way to engage conversation with the league. We are just trying to find a way to get back to the bargaining table and the league doesn’t seem like they’re too excited to get back talking.”

The league and the players’ union did meet on Monday, but only to discuss what constituted hockey related revenue. The sides were also believed to have held informal talks Monday night, but there were no formal meetings scheduled.

Spezza is one of the fortunate few to have already landed a job overseas.

Even though Senators defenceman Jared Cowen is about to take a step backward and a colossal pay cut by joining Binghamton of the AHL – from $1.265 million to $67,500 – he at least knows he’ll be playing in a league.

“I’m happy I can at least go somewhere and have a chance to play and not kind of sit here and rot,” said Cowen, who will leave for Binghamton on Wednesday. “I just hope there are more talks going on. If you get frustrated, I mean, it could be a year long, then you’re going to screw yourself into a hole thinking about it all the time.”

That’s easier said than done. The only escape from thinking about being in a lockout situation is when the players are on the ice, practicing and scrimmaging informally.

“Just by coming here and playing and working out, that kind of gets your head away from what’s going on outside,” said winger Erik Condra. “This is what we love to do. Come here and play. You don’t think about it when you’re playing.”

Condra acknowledges it’s a challenge to block out all the lockout noise. The impact of social media means that players are never far away from hearing about anything and everything related to the work stoppage. While Devellano’s words might have been on the tip of tongues Monday, they aren’t going to make a difference in when the dispute gets resolved.

“You can’t read too much into anything,” he said. “At some point, (the NHL and the players’ union) are going to sit down and negotiate.”

MICHALEK BACK ON THE ICE: Milan Michalek was skating for the first time since having abdominal surgery two weeks ago, wearing a yellow “no contact” sweater. Captain Daniel Alfredsson also returned, after taking last week off from the informal skates. You can’t help but wonder when Spezza, Michalek and Alfredsson – a favourite line for Senators coach Paul MacLean in times of trouble – will all be on the ice together again.

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