By Mike Harrington
Sabres winger Thomas Vanek has done plenty of skating the last few months during the NHL lockout and even played some games for Graz, his hometown team in his native Austria.
Now that there's a tentative deal to end the lockout and start training camp, likely on Saturday, Vanek said he was relieved. But that doesn't mean he's happy one bit about losing nearly half the season.
"I think this whole lockout was stupid," Vanek said today after skating with several teammates at the Northtown Center of Amherst. "I think it should have been settled before the season started and we should have played 82 games but you can't change the past. You move on. Do I like what happened? No. But again, it is what it was, which was sad. I'm just glad we settled and at least we can play hockey this year."
The players did make some gains late in negotiations, like added pension benefits and a higher year two salary cap. But they pale in comparisons to lots of lost paychecks, especially to a player like Vanek who was scheduled to make $6.4 million this year in the sixth season of the seven-year, $50 million pact. He signed it in 2007 after the Edmonton Oilers handed him an offer sheet and the Sabres were forced to match it in the wake of the loss of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury.
"It wasn't worth it," Vanek said. "I think we could have settled the same deal months ago. But was it necessary? Yeah. Because they weren't willing to negotiate. So that's the sad part about it. ... I thought we were willing to negotiate and negotiate fair. You look way back at the first offer, 43 percent**, and it's like where do we start? That's where it all started going south so early, which was not good."
(**The NHL initially offered the players just 43 percent of hockey-related revenues while the players had been earning 57. The sides settled on 50-50.)
Vanek said he hoped fans understood the situation and admitted it will be a long road to regain their trust -- as well as rebuild the relationship between the players and the league.
"At the end of the day, the players love the game and you hope there's enough owners that love it and I'm sure they do," he said. "And we have 8-10 years to work on it. You start with small steps. It's an industry. They need us, we need them and we've got to find a common ground."
Hear the audio from Vanek below: