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Tuesday, December 4, 2012
NHLPA puts right players at the table

By Scott Burnside

By now, everyone connected to the NHL lockout should have the common sense to temper even the remotest hint of optimism that something is going to happen to break the labor impasse.

Frankly, given the shambles this negotiation represents, that part has been easy.

It is no different now that the NHL Players’ Association has unveiled the roster of players that will meet Tuesday afternoon with a reconfigured group of NHL owners, minus the leaders from both sides: commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr.

Still, as you wander down the list of 18 NHL players who hope to turn Tuesday’s dialogue into some sort of forward traction, it’s hard not to see this as some sort of last, best hope at a deal to save some portion of the 2012-13 season.

There are players who have been involved in the process more or less from the get-go, including Craig Adams, Kevin Westgarth, Ron Hainsey, George Parros and David Backes. But it’s the group that rounds out the 18 that provides a significantly different dynamic.

There’s Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, who will be sitting across the table from Pens owner Ron Burkle, one of four new owners brought in for this meeting.

Crosby’s place at the table cannot be understated -- nor can Burkle’s, for that matter.

Crosby was "the face" of the new NHL after the last lockout scuttled the entire 2004-05 season. He now represents a strong and unifying presence among a player group that appears to be as unified as the day the lockout began in mid-September.

Also at the table will be former Hart Trophy winner Martin St. Louis. The veteran Tampa forward has a ton of credibility, and the fact that Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has been added to the ownership mix should also provide for some healthy give and take.

Murray Edwards, chairman of the Calgary Flames ownership group and part of the NHL’s bargaining committee, will see a familiar face at the table as Flames star Mike Cammalleri is part of the player group. Cammalleri remains among the brightest of NHL players.

The other owners expected to represent the league Tuesday are Jeremy Jacobs of the Boston Bruins -- a lightning rod for player discontent during the lockout -- Mark Chipman of the Winnipeg Jets and Larry Tanenbaum of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Along with Crosby and St. Louis, the players’ contingent will be heavy on leadership and credibility both on and off the ice, with Chicago captain Jonathan Toews -- a frequent critic of the owners during the lockout -- and Phoenix captain Shane Doan in the mix. Former Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller, one of the most passionate and eloquent players in the game, is also part of the players’ roster.

Multiple sources have told ESPN.com they expect this meeting to be about establishing a dialogue about how to bridge the gap that exists between the two sides, as opposed to a traditional bargaining session.

Certainly the new faces on the ownership side of the table should allow players to gather a broader cross-section of information from the players’ perspective. Likewise, the mix of players, which includes some of the game’s most high-profile, most respected players, should give owners a fuller understanding of where the players stand on negotiations.

Will things get heated?

They'd better. There’s only a season at stake here.

No reason to start pulling punches now.

Will it be enough to save at least a portion of the 2012-13 season?

If not, it won’t be because the two sides didn’t bring the right people to the table.