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Insider

Players prep for possibility of lockout

In the event of an NHL work stoppage, Dustin Brown wants to be prepared. Jeff Gross/Getty Images

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- The last time there was a work stoppage in the NHL, life was much different for Dustin Brown. When the lockout hit hockey in 2004, Brown was coming off his rookie season. He had some money left over from a signing bonus and a two-way deal that meant he could earn money in the minors while negotiations dragged out.

The biggest difference? He didn't have three children to support as he does now. So this time around, he's much more prepared. I asked him if he's started saving money in case there's a lockout and there was no hesitation.

"Yeah. Just preparing, you never know," he said. "It's a lot more important for me this time around in regards to my personal situation and what I have to look out for. It's definitely something all players are keeping an eye on."

Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski is coming off a huge new contract signed in the summer, and like many free agents from last year, he negotiated lockout protection in the form of a serious signing bonus. Even with that protection, he's started saving.

"Oh, absolutely," he said. "We're a team as a whole -- the NHLPA. I've talked to a lot of guys; we're in it to make the game the best we can be. For us as a group, there's also a business side."

The NHL and its general managers talked CBA on Wednesday during the final day of their annual meetings in Florida but said it wasn't anything significant. There's still not much to update and the theme of the day was business as usual.

They may not be treating this summer any differently, but the players certainly are. In a very unscientific poll of 10 agents, I asked if they were advising their clients to save money in case of a lockout. The results were overwhelming in favor of preparing for a lockout. Eight of the agents said they have advised their clients to save. Two said they have not, and one said he hasn't specifically given advice on saving but presented all the options his players will see in the coming year.

Some of the responses were interesting and shed light on how some insiders view the likelihood of a lockout:

• "We have been proactive in this regard for some time. We are making sure all clients have extra cash set aside in the event of a lockout. Our measuring stick is enough cash on hand to pay all bills for 18 months without a paycheck."

• "We always are advising our guys to save money for their future regardless of whether there are upcoming CBA talks or not."

• "I have not told them directly to start saving, but I have told them that I think it will be a bigger fight than expected and there could be another lockout. Added to that, I told them to prepare to not earn their full salaries [rollbacks/half season] and make sure they can cover all payments they currently incur."

• "The owners don't make tons of money in October ... so if they think they can squeeze some more out of the players, they really don't risk a whole lot if they miss the first four to six weeks."

• "Given the median NHL salary, I can't imagine any player not having money to live on for at least a year. So the answer is no [on saving]. In addition, many players play in Europe during the lockout. Only those who made bad investments or have gambling problems will experience difficulties."

• "Obviously, everybody hopes there will not be a lockout, but you need to be prepared for any worst-case scenario."

• "Absolutely. Players are very aware of the potential for a lockout. [Donald] Fehr has done a good job uniting and informing all of the players. I think we will lose 20 to 40 games if the owners choose to test the players' resolve rather than bargain realistically from the start."

• "At the end of the day, I think common sense will prevail."

I hope the last comment is the most accurate, and it's actually close to the feeling I receive when I talk directly to the players. Maybe it's because negotiations haven't seriously started, but there is still optimism a deal will get done without any games being lost.

Said one player: "I don't think there's going to be a lockout. I think we're going to come to some kind of agreement; both of us understand the game is prospering right now. I think both sides know that there's going to be some give-and-take on both sides. In the end, a lockout is no good for anyone."

There certainly isn't the public posturing you saw in other sports during their recent CBA negotiations. Commissioner Gary Bettman met with us following the GM meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., and he didn't sound overly concerned that talks aren't heating up. Like his well-trained general managers, he said it was business as usual.

"It's better to not have to focus on it until you have to focus on it," Bettman said. "When they're ready, we'll be ready."

Notes

• The Winnipeg Jets won an impressive game Wednesday night, beating the red-hot Dallas Stars 5-2 to remain right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. It was another win for goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who stopped 28 of 30 shots for the Jets. The 24-year-old goalie has found the consistency that eluded him early in his career with Atlanta, and is now 26-23-7 with a 2.77 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Pavelec is part of a group of intriguing young goalies around the league who are potential restricted free agents this summer. Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said any contract talks with his goalie will likely wait until after the season. "Right now, it's a tight group," Cheveldayoff said. "The business side, that will all take care of itself. It's an exciting opportunity for all the players right now. I don't want any distractions. I want to make sure we make a solid push."

With Wednesday night's win, the Jets sit in 10th place in the Eastern Conference and have made things much more interesting this season than we expected for a team in transition. "Whatever happens, happens," Cheveldayoff said. "I'm proud of the guys for the way they've kept battling."

We speculated a bit about the chemistry issues that might come with Alexander Radulov's return to the NHL, and the Tennessean's Josh Cooper confirmed that issue when he spoke with some of the Predators. "It takes away from the guys we have on the team when we talk about other guys coming in and guys who have been here all year and worked hard all year," defenseman Ryan Suter told Cooper. "It's going to be a fine line we're going to have to walk if he does come back."

• The overachieving Colorado Avalanche won again Wednesday night, beating a Buffalo Sabres team that has been surging toward a playoff berth. Jamie McGinn, who has been the best trade deadline addition in the league, added two more goals.

GM Greg Sherman deserves more credit than he's received for piecing this team together. It's loaded with young talent. As has been consistent with club policy, Sherman is waiting until the offseason to talk contract with his young talent, and a quick glance on CapGeek shows that the Avalanche will have no shortage of offseason negotiations, with 14 pending free agents (both UFA and RFA).

I actually agreed with Kyle Quincey's theory that guys like Ryan O'Reilly deserve midseason extensions as a reward for their strong play this season. When I floated that theory by Sherman, here was his careful response: "Here's what I will comment on. Clearly, the play of our team and our players has been such that we are in a battle every night for the playoffs," he said. "Where we're sitting as a franchise and how our team has competed and how our players, to their credit, have competed speaks for itself."