Many could stand to lose millions of dollars. Others are forfeiting the prime of their professional development. And some are potentially watching their careers come to an end.
But when several Blues in those situations were asked recently whether the players’ union’s stance in the NHL lockout is worth the unrecoverable benefits of being on the ice, their answers remain unified.
Before the start of the work stoppage on Sept. 15, Barret Jackman signed a three-year, $9.5 million extension. Later this week, the Blues defenseman will miss out on the fourth of 13 paychecks this season, totaling $923,076.92 in lost wages.
“I’m sure a lot of people think it’s just stubbornness,” Jackman said. “There’s a lot of money at stake. It’s not just our bank accounts that are being hit. There’s a lot of ushers, policemen, security, local businesses (affected). We do realize that. It’s not just something we turn our head at. It’s something that’s big. (But) it is about the long-term future.
“Obviously we want every team to be viable in the market and we don’t want to have to go through this again in five to seven years. And you do have to protect the guys coming into the league.”
Jackman was among those players who lost significant salaries during the last NHL lockout, which forced the cancellation of the 2004-05 season.
But while accepting a salary cap and a 24 percent rollback in individual wages, the union was awarded contract rights that dropped the age of unrestricted free agency to 27 from 31 over the length of the collective bargaining agreement.
That difference allowed the Blues’ Andy McDonald, at age 28 in July 2006, to sign a three-year, $10 million extension with Anaheim. After producing a team-high 51 assists, McDonald’s leverage with unrestricted free agency — only a year away at the time — led to his salary jumping to $3.3 million per season from $627,000 in 2005-06.
Then, following his trade to the Blues, the forward climbed to $4.7 million per season after signing a four-year, $18.8 million extension.
“Everyone sat out a year and missed a year of hockey to get those contracting rights that enabled myself to negotiate a (solid) deal over the last eight years,” said McDonald, whose losses during this lockout have reached $1.3 million. “That’s the way I’m looking at it. It’s not easy. The average career length is five years. When you take one (year) out of the equation, it makes it tough on the players to sit on the sidelines and not give in and sign a deal to get back on the ice right away. (But) I’m sure I’ll look back at it and hopefully I’ll feel that I made the right decision of supporting the union for the benefit of the whole.”
The Blues’ Alex Pietrangelo would be playing out the final year of his three-year entry-level contract this season. After receiving consideration a year ago for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman, he could expect a massive payday after his current deal expires.
In discussing the solidarity of his teammates and union overall, Pietrangelo said, “You have a respect for them. Those guys are the guys that try to make it better for us during this CBA. We’re a family of 700 players who believe in the same thing.”
But for Pietrangelo, the losses are more than monetary.
Pietrangelo, the No. 4 pick in the 2008 NHL draft, is missing out on game experience, which depending on the length of the lockout could stunt his growth. Many believe that former Blues defenseman Erik Johnson, on the mend from a torn knee ligament suffered in a golf cart accident in 2008, was still compensating from his lost year on the ice when his struggles led to a trade to Colorado in 2011.
“I’m skating with guys, I’m keeping my fitness level up and I’m still trying to work as hard as I would during the year,” said Pietrangelo, 22, who thus far hasn’t joined 10 other Blues playing in Europe. “I don’t think you can really compare those two situations. It definitely is going to be an adjustment for me. Usually this time of year, you’re at 20-25 games in. But to have the guys here pushing each other and competing, trying to replicate what we do in the season has been pretty good so far.”
Several Blues and other NHL players work out together about three times a week in Chesterfield.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the career spectrum is the Blues’ Jamie Langenbrunner. At 37, the forward signed a one-year, $1.25 million extension last summer that in all reality could be the swan song of his 17-year NHL career. He’s made approximately $27.4 million over his career, but financially secure or not, a lockout isn’t the way he drew up the ending.
Still, he stands by his union brethren.
“It’s frustrating for everybody depending on what situation you’re in,” he said. “Speaking for myself, it could be the last year and it’s not a lot of fun sitting out like this. On the other hand, I don’t think there’s any wavering in the way I feel about it. It wasn’t our choice to be locked out. We feel like we’ve given the opportunity for that to be taken care of. It’s frustrating, but unfortunately it’s what this business has turned into the last 15 years … these fights over stuff that maybe shouldn’t be that hard to figure out.”
Referencing retirement, he added, “It definitely crosses your mind, but I think this time also prepares you for it. I’ve gotten involved in coaching the kids’ teams and quite frankly, I’ve gotten to enjoy that aspect of it. You realize there is going to be an end to this (lockout) at some point. But it makes me feel when the end (of his career) does come, I’ll be prepared for that.”
They have different reasons for being disappointed. But they have the same sense about sticking together.
“It’s not about any individual,” Jackman said. “We’re in a union for a reason to protect everybody within that union. We’re going to do our best.”
FORBES PUTS BLUES LAST
Forbes.com unveiled its annual NHL team valuations Wednesday, and the Blues ranked last in the league at an estimated worth of $130 million.
The valuation was a significant drop from 2011, when Forbes valued the franchise at $157 million, ranking 27th in the league. Last May, a group of local investors led by Tom Stillman purchased the team for approximately $132 million.