When the National Hockey League locked out its players in 2004, there wasn’t a lot of sympathy for the players.
After all, here were grown men making millions of dollars playing a game and the costs had soared out of control and made it unaffordable for the average fan to take in a game.
A whole season was lost and when the dust had settled, a salary cap was put in place and the players conceded to generous pay cuts.
Now eight years later another work stoppage is looming, but this time around the players appear to be the victims of what is amounting to a greedy hierarchy. For Robin Regehr, although he hopes a settlement is reached soon, he is also prepared to stick it out again for the betterment of the game.
“We (NHL Player’s Association) made a proposal today (Tuesday) and that proposal is something very different from what the NHL came to us with,” explained Regehr prior to stepping onto the Art Hauser Centre ice for a workout with the NorSask Hockey Development Camp. “We will have to see how it all shakes out. The players are giving concessions, but what we want is the high revenue earning teams to share with the lower revenue teams. If we can come to an agreement it will help hockey for 20 to 30 years and we won’t have to go through this all again.”
“I’m optimistic and hope we don’t miss any time, but if we do so be it,” added Regehr.
The NHL claims that the league can’t survive in its present state. Commissioner Gary Bettman has indicated that salaries have to be rolled back, but the NHLPA states that has already been done. What the NHLPA wants to see is the league manage its business better and have the wealthy teams share revenues with the clubs that are on a less secure financial footing.
Also on the table is the length of contracts, but it isn’t just the players asking for the long-term deals that are commonplace these days. The wealthy clubs are offering lengthy contracts that are front-end loaded, which leaves the weaker markets out of the negotiations and will continually relegate them to as also-rans in the league.
While this newest round of talks is heating up in New York, Regehr and his family are enjoying the offseason at their summer home at Christopher Lake. It is the second straight offseason that has been a bit hectic for Regehr, but he has also had time to relax this time around.
“It has been a nice summer,” says the 32-year-old defenseman with the Buffalo Sabres. “July was phenomenal (with the warm weather). Last year we had a baby born here in Prince Albert in late July and then with the move to Buffalo, it was a crazy time. This time around has been very nice.”
Born in Brazil, Regehr was raised in Rosthern and played his midget hockey here in Prince Albert. The steady, stay-at-home blueliner then toiled with the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League before being drafted in the first round of the 1998 entry draft by the Colorado Avalanche.
Before even putting on an Avalanche jersey, however, Regehr was dealt to the Calgary Flames in early 1999. Regehr, Wade Belak and Rene Corbert were sent to the Flames for Theoren Fleury and Chris Dingman and when Regehr finished his junior career that spring he made the leap to the NHL where he has played in more than 900 games and gained the reputation as one of the best defenders in the league.
Regehr was in Calgary for more than a decade when last summer he got the call that he was being offered to the Sabres along with Ales Kotalik, plus a second-round pick in a future entry draft, in exchange for Chris Butler and Paul Byron. The move caught him off guard.
“It was a situation where I knew they had to make certain moves,” says Regehr. “They were stuck against the salary cap and they were exploring other options. But, that’s the business of hockey.”
“It was a big move for us,” continued Regehr. “We really enjoy it there. The whole family liked it.”
Although Regehr isn’t known to put up huge numbers offensively, last year was still an off year even by his standards as he managed to score just one goal and add four assists in 76 games with the Sabres.
His strong defensive play still continued to be the cornerstone of his game, however, and his leadership added to a team that struggled through injury problems. Regehr says that the Sabres should be a strong club this year, if they get to play.
“I think we will be a good team,” says Regehr. “When we had a full lineup last year we did really good; we just need to stay healthy as a team.”
For now, all Regehr can do is play the waiting game. He plans to leave for upper New York state after the long weekend in September and hopefully the labour talks will have been settled.
“I’m just going to get as much lake time as possible,” says Regehr.