Vancouver Canucks' Kevin Bieksa senses fan support for players during lockout
'People are informed and they know what is going on here. They know it is a $3-billion business, they know the owners had record revenues last year'
Maxim Lapierre (left) is distracted by Canucks’ teammate Kevin Bieksa during a TV interview following an informal workout of locked out players at UBC’s Thunderbird Arena on Monday.
Photograph by: Kim Stallknecht, PNG
VANCOUVER — It’s hardly a scientific poll, but Kevin Bieksa senses that this time things are different.
The feedback he has been receiving in these very early days of the National Hockey League lockout — at the coffee shops he frequents, from the fans he meets on the streets and the messages he gets on his Twitter account — has been largely positive and Bieksa feels support for the players. Lots of it.
“I think 75 per cent of the fans have been very supportive,” the Canucks’ defenceman said Monday after skating with some of his teammates at UBC. “I have been getting a lot of messages saying we support you guys, the players. There is a lot of information out there this time, it’s not like the last lockout where unless you were really paying attention you didn’t know what was going on.
“Now there is a lot of information out there. There are stats, numbers are being thrown around, people are informed and they know what is going on here. They know it is a $3-billion business, they know the owners had record revenues last year. Just look at the numbers, like I said, the dedicated fans, 75 per cent of them, are behind us.”
Unfortunately, that and about $4 will buy you a latte at Starbucks. It’s not likely to influence NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the 29 team owners who despite a summer-long spending spree are now pleading poverty.
But Bieksa thinks the fans, most of them anyway, are beginning to see through the hypocrisy of the owners, who spent upwards of $200 million on beat-the-clock deals in the days leading up to this weekend’s lockout.
“It’s ridiculous and I think everybody sees that,” Bieksa said. “If you don’t see that, you are blind. Obviously, the problem is with them, the problem isn’t with us making too much. It’s them overpaying guys and creating their own problems so to speak. They could fix themselves without asking for rollbacks or concessions from us.”
Disappointment and frustration were the words used to describe the emotions of the Canucks who skated Monday for the first time since the lockout took effect at midnight eastern time on Saturday night.
“I’m not angry, it’s just that a lot of these owners are giving guys new contracts left and right and telling you that you are worth every penny and they want you there and (now) they want 20 per cent of it back,” said goalie Cory Schneider. “It’s a little contradictory and it is hard to take them at their word when they say things and a month later they don’t mean it any more. It’s tough for us.”
The players have spent the past weeks hoping for the best, but fearing the worst. They saw the lockout coming and had considerable time to prepare for it. Still, when it officially happened it was like a kick in the gut.
“It’s not a good feeling,” Bieksa said. “Most of us knew this would probably happen. Right now, we’re in limbo, we’re coming to the rink, we’re skating, we’re training, but it’s not the same feeling. We should be in training camp, fall is coming, the weather has been great, which helps, but once it starts raining and stuff it’s going to feel a little bit weird.
“The only thing we can do is keep our bodies ready right now and once we get a deal done things are going to happen quickly, so we have to be ready to go.”
And when might a deal get done? Bieksa suggested that’s the million-dollar — or perhaps we should say $3.3 billion — question.
“That is what the fans ask every day on the street,” he said. “When’s it going to end, what do you think. It’s tough to get one guys’ opinion because you don’t know how the NHL is going to react to our next proposal, you don’t know how we are going to react to their next one. It could change daily so right now it’s not fair to predict.”
But in the back of everyone’s mind — even players like Bieksa and Schneider who weren’t directly affected by it — is the 2004-05 season which was lost in its entirety to a lockout.
“It wouldn’t be fair to a lot of people,” Bieksa, who played in the AHL during the last lockout, said of the prospect of losing another season. “It wouldn’t be fair to the fans, I’d feel for a lot of people who work in the arenas, the vendors, employees, the (Canucks) staff that have all taken pay cuts. It sucks for a lot of people.
“Obviously, the owners want to make a little more money, but it’s not just the players they are coming after. They think we make too much and they think we could probably weather the storm, but there are a lot of other people who are suffering that maybe they are not considering.”
Schneider, one of the Canuck player reps in negotiations, hopes the frustration he senses from fans will help convince both sides to reach an agreement.
“The fans are frustrated and rightfully so,” Schneider said. “They want to watch hockey just as badly as we want to play hockey ... there’s that sense of here we go again. We went through this a few years ago and fans went through a lot by losing hockey that year. I think a lot of them are fed up. They are tired of every seven or eight years there is no hockey to start the year.
“They speak loudest, they are the ones who shell out their hard-earned money to come and watch us and pay our salaries and we would love to be out there playing for them doing what we do. But I think for us to not have an agreement yet speaks volumes to what we believe and how strongly we feel about the quality of the owners’ proposal. The fact we are not accepting it should tell you everything.”
On Twitter: Twitter.com/bradziemer
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