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Lightning's Vinny Lecavalier worries about lockout's effect on fans

When Vinny Lecavalier is out and about, either in Tampa or his hometown of Montreal, fans make sure they give him their opinion on the 113-day NHL lockout.

"Some of them understand the process, and some of them don't," he said. "Mostly, though, they're just disappointed."

It is perhaps the most underreported aspect of the lockout.

In a sport in which a majority of revenue comes through ticket sales, fans have felt ignored as the league and players negotiate a collective bargaining agreement and how to split revenue that last season was a record $3.3 billion.

Perhaps that is because of the way fans came back to the game after the 2004-05 lockout. Perhaps it is just that the league and players take the fans for granted.

Elliotte Friedman, a columnist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., quoted a player last week saying "people will forget" their anger and disgust at the league's third lockout in 18 years.

"But that's wrong," Friedman wrote. "People are never going to forget this. Not the fans. Not the league. Not the players … and not the media."

That is because this lockout seemed so avoidable and because instead of negotiating in earnest, talks have been sporadic and devolved into what appears to be dirty tricks and manufactured controversies.

No wonder, then, Lecavalier sounded a cautionary tone after a skate with teammates Friday at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon.

"Of course we worry about that," he said of fans rejecting the NHL. "If there are no fans, there's no league. We've got to worry about what people are saying.

"Right now you're in an unknown," he said when asked if he knew, or hoped, fans would return. "I hope the fans come back."

The Lightning told the Tampa Bay Times several weeks ago about 100 season-ticket accounts had been canceled because of the lockout. That is at least 200 tickets and probably more. How many more will opt out if the season is lost?

Face-to-face negotiations Saturday, the first since a marathon session went into Thursday morning, have sparked hope the season won't be canceled.

Still, if the league wants to start games by Jan. 19 (though there's probably wiggle room there), a deal must be signed by about Friday in order to get in at least a weeklong training camp. That means a handshake agreement has to come in the next few days. With this as a backdrop:

The players association on Thursday accused the league of trying to sneak through changes concerning how teams that hide hockey-related revenue will be punished. The league said changes were flagged and union lawyers simply missed them, and ESPN said an NHL executive it didn't name told it that perhaps union chief Don Fehr knew about the changes and waited for the right time to tell players to rile them up.

Either way, the changes were dropped.

As for fans reading about such things, Lecavalier said, "I hope they're not as frustrated as we are."

Lightning's Vinny Lecavalier worries about lockout's effect on fans 01/05/13 [Last modified: Sunday, January 6, 2013 12:20am]
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