TORONTO - Mike Cammalleri was one of 100 or so NHL players on a conference call with the players association earlier this week, consensus largely shared amongst the participants.
"What can I tell you, guys unanimously feel the same way about it and the feeling guys are saying is they've offered us nothing," said the Flames winger, following an hour-long workout with a group of peers at a midtown Toronto rink. "It just really feels like a shakedown for the players. That's kind of the feeling across the board."
Talks between the players and the owners have grinded to a screeching halt this week with a league-imposed deadline for an 82-game season set to pass with not a single strain of movement between the two sides. NHL Deputy commissioner Bill Daly told TSN and ESPN.com insider Pierre LeBrun that the league's latest proposal - which called for an immediate 50/50 split of hockey-related revenue - would be pulled off the table following Thursday's deadline. The players rejected that offer last week, responding with three proposals of their own, each of which the owners dismissed in hurried fashion.
"It's disappointing that the approach for Gary [Bettman] and the ownership group has been to make these hard dates and final offers and not budging and on and on," said Cammalleri. "There's no real answer to why except 'We think we can lock you out and your careers are short and we can shake you down'. Not a good feeling."
"With the strides I think we've made in terms of trying to make this work and obviously on our perspective, the way it looks on the other side not really even giving anything we've tried to do a chance it gets frustrating," added Leafs forward Matthew Lombardi. "But at the same time you've got to believe it's a process and that things are going to work out here for the best. That's all you can do."
Earlier this week the players, led by Donald Fehr, reached out to the league for a no-strings attached meeting, a request that was flatly rejected by Bettman and the owners. The real sticking point in negotiations is the league's insistence that players' share of H.R.R. be immediately reduced to 50 per cent, rather than a gradual approach downward favoured by the players. An added "make whole" provision to pay back existing contracts with deferred payments was also widely spurned.
"It's frustrating," said Leafs centre Jay McClement of the talks. "I don't know where we go from here, but hopefully we get back to the table soon and we get some movement and get a little bit closer. And hopefully just get that conversation going again."
"From day one in the negotiation, it's been us trying to concede to get a deal done," Cammalleri noted. "That's all we've done is make concessions. Nothing's been offered that benefits the players in any way whatsoever."
Like most players, Cammalleri can see no reason for an immediate reduction in salaries, other than financial greed from the owners' perspective. "You feel taken advantage of when you can't justify it to yourself," he said. "It's like if you've ever bought a house or a car, if the price is this because this is what it costs then you feel okay paying those dollars because there's a story to it, there's a reason for it. You don't feel taken advantage of."
The prospects of an 82-game season are fading fast with the future of the season at large edging into real jeopardy. Asked if he was fearful of losing an entire year, Cammalleri was unsure. "I think owners want us to be fearful of missing another year," he said, stressing his voice as a singular opinion amongst hundreds of players. "I don't know if I feel that way or not."
"It's not just about us," Lombardi ultimately concluded of the lockout's effect. "It's obviously about a lot of people that are missing the game and people that work or have jobs that relate to the game and obviously the fans. It affects a lot of people."