Spezza takes on off-ice responsibilities

 

As Jason Spezza returned to the ice in Ottawa Tuesday for the first time since April, he couldn’t help but remark about the great summer that was everywhere in the province.

It wasn’t all fun and games in the off-season, though. Spezza was, at times, a poster child for the players’ association during on-going discussions aimed at reaching a new collective bargaining agreement with NHL owners. He was a regular in the players’ association’s Toronto offices, talking with executive director Donald Fehr, staying on top of any new developments and passing them on to his Senators teammates.

As a youth filling Toronto-area nets with pucks or as a star teenager busing around the Ontario Hockey League, we don’t imagine Spezza had spent much time thinking about the definition of hockey related revenues, the history of revenue sharing in professional sports or the turbulent relationships between management and labour unions.

But here he is now, answering teammates’ lockout-related questions and trying to rally the troops to show a strong front at meetings in New York on Wednesday. Spezza, Senators’ union rep Chris Phillips, captain Daniel Alfredsson, Zack Smith and Marc Methot are among the “8-10” Senators who will be in the Big Apple Wednesday, part of a crew of about 250 NHL players.

“I was there for one of our proposals, some smaller meetings, some committee stuff (in the summer),” said Spezza, who claims the dialogue between the NHL and players’ union has been professional.

The Wednesday meetings, he says, are about showing unity and making sure players are aware of all the issues.

“It also gives you comfort in being able to share with guys on your team,” he said. “It’s good for our team to have a lot of guys there. I tried to stress that in talking to a number of guys. It’s good for our group to know what’s going on, so that when we’re skating here, we’re not wondering what’s happening. It’s not just about me and (Phillips). It’s important to stick together as a team and that reflects back on the union, too.”

It’s possible that the players meetings could help spur another round of formal negotiations with the owners in an effort to get the regular season started on time, but the players aren’t fooling themselves, either. They know they will be locked out at midnight on Saturday.

“A lockout is supposed to be a last option,” said Spezza. “But it seems like it’s a negotiating tactic for them. It’s frustrating a little bit, but (the NHL) got what they wanted the last time and it didn’t work out. We’re just trying to find a fair deal so we have labour peace moving forward, so we’re not doing this again.”

While it’s unlikely the Senators will formally open training camp on Sept. 21 as scheduled, the players aren’t going to simply sitting at home, waiting for the sides to come to terms. The plan is to rent ice for semi-formal workouts, with former NHL player and Hull Olympiques coach acting as an instructor.

“We’re going to have normal practices,” said Spezza. “Maybe we’ll break off into into teams and have some mini games.”

Once the Binghamton Senators open training camp in two weeks, the players will re-assess the situation, determining what they can do with the number of players on hand.

“We’re still trying to get guys to come in (to Ottawa),” Spezza said. “If things go on for awhile, guys might scatter and go home, but it could be a real advantage as a team if you can skate and skate together.”

Spezza says he plans on staying in Ottawa for awhile, but if the lockout goes on and on, he will explore other leagues.

“I’m not going to sit around all season without playing,” he said. “I’m going to give it some time to see what’s going on. I’ve looked into a few things, but first and foremost, I just want to help get this settled and if I can help speed things along and be a part of things, I’m going to do that at least for the initial part and then decide what’s best for myself and my family.”

NO, THAT WASN’T A DREAM: At one point during Tuesday’s skate, Spezza and Philadelphia Flyers star Claude Giroux played together on a line. Giroux, who grew up in Orleans and starred for the Gatineau Olympiques before making it to the NHL, isn’t sure whether he’ll continue to work out in Ottawa or hook up with other players in Philadelphia. “I will know more after I come back from New York,” said Giroux.

Giroux sounds like he might be one of the first players to leave for Europe.

“My job is to play hockey, so if we can’t get an agreement, I’ve got to find a job. If it’s not in Philadelphia, I will have to find a new place.”

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