It isn’t a situation Josh Gorges is accustomed to, nor one that he particularly likes.
Then again, the 27-year-old Kelowna native knows labour unrest is simply a reality in pro sports.
The prospects of not being able to start a hockey season on time is a foreign concept for the ex-Kelowna Rockets captain who is experiencing an NHL contract dispute for the first time in his career.
“Even as recently as a couple of years ago, you never really think of being in this position, you grew up to be a hockey player and that’s what you did, you played hockey,” said Gorges, who has played for the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens the last six seasons. “But when you get to this level you understand the business side is part of the game. It’s our livelihood, our business, our way of life. You have to learn that side of professional sport. We’re all working hard to try and get a deal done, that’s our focus right now. We want to get back to our cities and get back playing.”
Gorges and 37 other players met with NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr Tuesday in Kelowna to discuss the latest developments in contract negotiations between the two sides.
The NHL has said if a new deal isn’t struck by Sept. 15, a work stoppage will go into effect and the players will be locked out.
With the average player salary above $2 million annually, and revenues for NHL owners rising to record levels, many people view the current contract negotiations as a battle of the wealthy against the wealthy.
Gorges understands why public sentiment might not be in their favour, but says players shouldn’t have to shoulder the responsibility for the economics of today’s game.
“That’s a tough situation because obviously we’re fortunate to do what we do and we get paid a lot to do it,” Gorges said. “I think it’s hard for some people to understand it, with the salaries that we make, but at the same time someone who makes a lot more than we do writes those cheques.
“There have to be concessions on both sides and I think that’s something we’re working towards,” he added. “I think from the players perspective we’re willing to work and still play hockey even if a deal isn’t in place. It’s not about raising player contracts to make more money, it’s just so that we’re not giving up a lot more than we should. We all want to play.”
As for the byproduct of two days of meetings in Kelowna, union boss Donald Fehr said he felt no less or more optimistic about the state of labour negotiations and the prospects of striking a new CBA. At the same, he was encouraged by the solidarity displayed by all 38 players in attendance.
“It is both gratifying and reassuring to see this level of interest, this level of commitment and this level of intention and discussion we’ve had during these meetings,” Fehr said. “It reaffirams that we’re doing the right thing, the right thing being defined as that which the players want to have done.”
Fehr and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman were scheduled to return to the bargaining table on Wednesday and Thursday at the union’s headquarters in Toronto.