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Former Lakers discuss the effects of the NHL lockout on minor leaguers
Feb. 18, 2005
By Lindsey Mechalik, LSSU Sports Information Student Assistant
On Sept. 15, 2004, the collective bargaining agreement between the National Hockey League and its players expired. Since that day, the NHL's 30 teams have locked out all of its players until a new agreement has been created. There are many parts of the agreement that the two sides are arguing about, but the largest dispute involves the salary cap.
The owners of the NHL feel that the salaries of players are spiraling out of control. The feeling is that certain teams are not able to compete with teams such as the Detroit Red Wings, who seem to have never-ending bank accounts. The players were ready to take an across-the-board pay cut, but the owners would not agree to the specific terms. The two sides have been arguing since September without finding a middle ground.
On Feb. 14, the NHL Players' Association made a counter offer to the league's $40-million-a-team salary cap. The players were willing to put in effect a $52 million cap along with other tax proposals. The league refused their offer. The 2004-05 season was officially cancelled on Feb. 16.
Many unemployed NHL'ers have flocked to Europe to play hockey. Others have joined minor-league teams around the United States. The American Hockey League, East Coast Hockey League, United Hockey League and many others have been flooded with new talent because of the lockout. The trickle-down effect has forced the mainstays of the minor leagues to find new teams or retire.
The NHL lockout has affected many former Laker hockey players. Defenseman Tyson Turgeon and forward Tim Krueckl both play for the Kalamazoo K-Wings of the United Hockey League. UHL players have been vocal about the impact of NHL players taking away jobs in their league. Recently, the NHL's Chris Chelios, Sean Avery and Derian Hatcher joined the Motor City Mechanics.
Krueckl, a rookie pro, remains neutral about the NHL players joining the league. He sees the positive and the negative effects.
"The competition in the UHL is a lot higher than when I played eight games with Fort Wayne at the end of last season," Krueckl said. "There are a lot of guys in the league that would be playing in the American Hockey League. Now there are even guys who would have been playing in the NHL.
Due to an injury, Krueckl sat out a game against Motor City that included a few NHL players.
"Chelios has an unbelievable hockey sense," Krueckl said. "He dominates play when he is on the ice. He always makes the right decisions. I am excited to be able to play against them, but I wasn't able to the first time we faced them. I really want to be able to play against NHL players, but I do understand where some people are coming from when they say it's not really right that they are taking away other guys' jobs."
Krueckl does not feel he has been directly affected by the lockout. Even if the NHL had played its full season, Krueckl had planned to play another year in the UHL. He is a little worried about how an extended lockout might affect his future plans. However, he hopes that the NHL and the players will resolve their differences.
Krueckl started the season playing for the Fort Wayne Komets and moved to the Kalamazoo K-wings in December. Krueckl and Turgeon have a lot in common because of their LSSU roots.
"Having Tyson on the team helped the transition to Kalamazoo a lot," Krueckl said. "It was also nice that I knew a few of the other players too. I sit beside him in the locker room, and we love to share stories and jokes."
"It was exciting to have Tim come to our team," said Turgeon, a 2002 graduate. "Even though he was only a Laker for a year, it was great to talk to him and catch up on stories from Sault Ste. Marie and the happenings in the locker room. We joke around a lot."
Turgeon's feelings about NHL players in the UHL are similar to Krueckl's
"The addition of the NHL players has really strengthened the league," Turgeon said. "I really think it is stronger than ever before. We have a lot of AHL players who have moved down because the NHL guys have their jobs. I was really excited to play against Hatcher and Chelios. I am a huge fan of Chelios. I watched him play all of the time when I was growing up. It's amazing to see him play at 40 years old and see how talented and strong he still is. I really like playing against the NHL players. But, I really don't agree with how they won't play with a salary cap in the NHL, but they will play in the UHL where the salaries are so much lower. I also don't agree with guys losing their jobs."
The lockout not only hurts those hockey players already in the minor professional leagues, but concerns college hockey's current seniors. They wonder if they will be picked up by minor league teams for the playoffs when their collegiate season is over. That tendency might go by the wayside. The Vancouver Canucks have senior Matt Violin's rights for a year, so he will probably have a somewhere to play.
"The lockout has really hurt hockey because it has gone on so long," said Violin, who is the only NHL draft pick on the Laker team. "It has really hurt the popularity of hockey because there are so many other sports for people to watch, like basketball, football, and baseball. Hopefully, by the end of our season, the NHL players will be back to work, which will give graduating college players more opportunities to find places to play."
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