Boyle worried about long-term NHL damage

Boyle worried about long-term NHL damage
November 16, 2012, 11:14 pm
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SAN JOSE There are few words in the English language as wonderful as the word "payday." In fact, a quick Twitter search of the word shows it's often accompanied by one of those a big yellow Emoji smiley faces that have become so common in text message conversations.

Paydays can be especially sweet if you're a professional hockey player. But not today. In fact, Nov. 16 marked the third missed check that players would have received had the season started on time.

Since the early days of the NHL lockout more two months ago, Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle has stated more than once that he thought Gary Bettman and the league owners were going to wait until the players missed a few paydays before getting down to real, actual labor negotiations. The more money that players missed out on, Boyle surmised, the more likely they would be to take a collective bargaining agreement that was more favorable to ownership.

REWIND: Boyle bothered by NHL owners' tactics

So far, its hard to dispute that viewpoint, especially after the league proposed a much-publicized and decidedly wacky two-week moratorium on CBA talks on Thursday.

Boyle is in the middle of a six-year, 40 million contract that would have paid him 6.67 million this season. He has one year left on that deal, for the same amount, in 2013-14.

But, its not the lost wages hes concerned about, as the calendar hits mid-November with no NHL hockey. He's made plenty of money in his 14-year NHL career.

Its the potential long-term damage to the game that has been so kind to him since he signed with the Florida Panthers as an undrafted free agent in 1998, and the chance that many fans could tune out the league for good if this thing goes much longer.

Its not the checks that Im missing. My biggest concern is the fans, Boyle said. Im so grateful and thankful to be playing this game, but if theres nobody in the stands to play in front of, thats the worst part. And thats my biggest concern, is were hurting the game.

We had some good steam coming in here. Thats what I worry about every day, and thats what I talk to my wife about. I just dont want to damage the fans, and the game.

The 36-year-old Boyle realizes that not every NHL player in the same situation. The average career lasts less than six years at an annual salary somewhere in the 2.4 million range.

The lost pay might affect certain guys. Again, at this point in my career, thats not affecting me as much as a younger guy or a guy in a different position. Its not a paycheck thing, Boyle repeated.

There are 700-plus guys in the union and guys coming up, so you want to make sure its fair for everybody. Its a union for a reason. Its got to work for everybody.

Like just about everyone else who has been following this ill-advised and nonsensical debacle, Boyle was perplexed with the owners most recent tactic of shutting down negotiations until the end of the month, at the earliest.

I dont understand it, because time is of the essence. Id rather hammer away at it than waste another two weeks when time is so crucial, he said.

Talks appeared to be picking up steam last week when the sides met for four straight days, but the leagues insistence that the union accept its restrictive contract demands led to yet another breakdown. It was reported that Gary Bettman told the players association that were past the point of give-and-take." The league wants to cap contracts at five years maximum, along with a five-percent maximum variance from year-to-year, thereby eliminating the front-loaded deals that are designed to circumvent the salary cap.

Meanwhile, union head Donald Fehr has continually and publically repeated the question -- whats in this for the players?

Besides the obvious answer of a league open for business, Boyle was asked what Fehr might mean by that.

Theres got to be give-and-take. Thats my interpretation of it. Maybe we give up a right somewhere, and we gain a right somewhere else. Or, tot necessarily gain, but not lose.

Money has gone down. Every contract right is down, as well. Its kind of across the board. Thats what he means by that. Theres nothing they are willing to eat up on their side, so far.

Along with Boyle, Patrick Marleau, Brad Stuart and Thomas Greiss skated at Sharks Ice on Friday. Islanders goalie and former Shark Evgeni Nabokov is also among the participants, as is former Sharks forward Jonathan Cheechoo.

Michal Handzus became the ninth Sharks player to commit to playing overseas, when he joined his hometown club of HC Banska Bystrica in Slovakia on Wednesday. Handzus, 35, had been skating with the team in practice.