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NHLPA begins board meetings

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The National Hockey League Players' Association began its annual executive board meetings Monday at the Peninsula Hotel to begin focused discussions about labor negotiations.

The meetings continue through Wednesday and, according to Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHLPA, between 40 and 60 players are expected to participate.

Players across the NHL spectrum from veteran stars to young role players were present and ready to take part in an event that usually happens each summer.

This time, however, there's more of a spotlight because of the pending expiration date of the current CBA between the League and the NHLPA, which occurs Sept. 15.

"In a general sense, obviously we'll be spending a lot of time in these meetings talking about the process and the substance of the impending CBA negotiations," said Fehr. "When you come into a situation like this ... you want to make sure you've done everything you can to bring the players up to speed to involve them and make sure you understand what they want and what they think is important."

Fehr, who said initial negotiations for a new CBA could start "very quickly" after the NHLPA meetings, met with reporters Monday prior to his first informative session with players that started in the late afternoon.

Several players also met with reporters before heading into their first meeting.

Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan and Florida Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell were among the players present.

"Well it's our future," Ovechkin said, when asked why he attended. "I think it's important for us and for everybody (to be here). We have to be on the same page. I think everybody has to be involved. It's our lives, you know?"

Fehr said the famous faces of his membership who were present this week merely shows the overall level of interest all players have in the negotiations.

"I don't know whether that particularly sends a message, but it's absolutely clear to me that they are (interested)," Fehr said. "You'll have a bunch of players of varying celebrity, if I can put it that way, that will be here this week and there will be all kinds of players coming to the bargaining meetings once they start and attending the regional meetings we have scheduled in August. I expect very wide participation from all parts of the membership."

Fehr said the members of the players' negotiating committee will likely be released Wednesday -- at the conclusion of the meetings.

While the path of the negotiations remains unknown, most of the players who spoke Monday had the same basic hope: to see a new deal come together without another long work stoppage being part of the process.

"The negotiation last time was more about the concepts and this is more about numbers," Doan said.

Added Campbell: "We have a good product going right now. Fans are excited. It's been different teams going to the (Stanley Cup) Playoffs. It's something to be excited about. You don't want to ruin that. I think for the owners' sake, we can't afford (a work stoppage) and for the players' sake we can't afford to not be playing. There's too much lost for some of us the last time."

Campbell's former teammate, Toews, felt likewise -- despite the fact he didn't enter the League until after the current CBA was agreed upon following the work stoppage in 2004-05.

"I mean when it comes down to it, everyone wants to play hockey," Toews said. "We all want to play hockey and the fans want to see hockey. We just want to see things come together for both sides and be sure that both sides feel respected and feel they've been treated fairly."

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