In Calgary, NHLer Brad Mills and arena staff voice concerns

There’s a good chance that the NHL will lockout its players on Sept. 15, as discussions over the new collective agreement continue. This would be the league’s fourth work stoppage since 1992, and would put local rookie Brad Mills out of the game, and Andy Leblond – a Calgary Flames broadcast editor – out of a job.

 Brad Mills is living with his brother and a friend outside of Okotoks, and practices almost daily at the Calgary Flames Arena. He’s an unrestricted free agent who has played the last two seasons with the New Jersey Devils, and is hoping to sign a new contract. For now, he plays alongside members of the San Jose Sharks, the New York Rangers, and even with mix-league players who are all trying to be in the best physical and mental condition for when the season might start.

Brad Mills (scoring,) has been practicing daily alongside mixed league players at the Calgary Flames Arena.

Photo by: Kyle Napier They run drills, skate circles around the arena, train with a coach, and discuss plays – however, there’s still no certainty of future big-league games.

Mills, 29, signed as a forward for the New Jersey Devils in 2010, and says that news of the pending lockout puts him in limbo.

“The negotiations have dragged on, and it doesn’t look like there’s going to be an on-time start to the season,” says Mills. “These are things that are outside of the individual athlete’s sphere of influence.”

He says that playing in the NHL so far has been “an opportunity to kind of live that childhood dream.”

Mills earned a salary of $525,000 for the ’11-’12 season, but would, of course, be out of work if there were a lockout.

Mills considers college, while broadcast workers predict stall

Only two years into his career in the NHL, Mills is currently preparing college and university applications for September 2013 in business as a back-up plan, if the season doesn’t pan out for him.

“I don’t feel like I’m in a position where I’d be willing to sign a contract just to play…. I’d feel just as comfortable retiring and pursuing another line of work,” says Mills, who has a degree in political science.

“The loss of a season is a lot more detrimental to rookies than someone who just signed a $100 million contract,” he says, although he is still interested in playing hockey.

However, it’s not just the players or managers that would lose work.

Andy Leblond, a seasonal control room editor for the Calgary Flames, says their work is also dependent on games.

“If we were to lose the whole season, there are seven guys in our room that it would affect. This is our main source of income,” he says.

Though they do similar work for the Calgary Hitmen, and the Calgary Roughnecks, the employees’ primary focus has always been the Calgary Flames.

“That’s why it’s such a big issue in our country right now. It’s our sport,” he adds.

Leblond and his colleagues edit replay videos for Sportsnet and the jumbotron, and would lose out on broadcast work for the pre-season, the 41 scheduled season games, the playoffs, and any other accompanying sponsorship videos.

“We’re in a holding pattern, going with how it is in the summer. If the season doesn’t begin in November or December, then I’ll have to really relook at it.”

The players and employees remain optimistic

Leblond says that he and his colleagues are still hopeful.

“If the season is coming, we don’t know when it’s going to start after the 15th. As of right now, we have to prepare as if the season is coming. We have an opening night, and the presentation for the opening night,” he says.

Brad Mills, who isn’t involved in the NHL negotiations, says, “There are guys like me who are on the periphery, and trying to read the articles and stay abreast.” But he has faith in the NHL Player’s Association will negotiate a settlement.

Leblond agrees, saying, “I can’t see them doing what they did in ’04-’05 again.”

knapier@cjournal.ca