BOLTON, Mass. -- As Saturday's expiration of the NHL's collective bargaining agreement draws closer, Boston Bruins players spoke with increasing despondency Monday about the possibility the sides could avoid a second work stoppage in eight years.
"I've heard the same stuff you guys do and a bunch of different things," goaltender Tuukka Rask told reporters at the team's annual charity golf event at the International. "I hear November, December and New Year's [as potential start dates for the season], but no one really knows."
Asked if anyone involved with the CBA negotiations had told him the season would start on time, Rask said "No."
The NHLPA is expecting upward of 200 players for its player meetings beginning Wednesday. The NHL's Board of Governors will meet Thursday, when commissioner Gary Bettman is expected to secure approval to impose a lockout this weekend.
Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, a former player representative, said he knows things need to be fixed with the current CBA but thinks the NHL should extend the deadline.
"It's disheartening to a lot of fans and players that's the road that's taken [by the owners], where a lockout is the first option," Ference said. "I think that's where the frustrations for a lot of people sets in, where it doesn't even seem like it's a real negotiation.
"You throw numbers around like that and -- like I've said, if it weren't for the last lockout where [the players] gave up a tremendous amount to come up with a system that I think [the owners] were extremely happy with, and I think Gary has done a tremendous job with getting the revenues up under his watch and under his plan -- then all of a sudden they act surprised where those numbers are at is, I think, disheartening."
Ference said players came into negotiations willing to play under the current system as negotiations continued, and still would be if the NHL chose to extend the deadline rather than lock the players out.
"If you look at what's happened in negotiations, we're fully committed to playing and continue to playing and not have any work stoppage at all," he said. "The system that Gary and the league created has been successful, as I said, from the players' view and the league's point of view. If you look at the numbers, you can't argue that. That's why we were and are fully committed to keep playing under the system.
"But once that first offer was thrown out there, it obviously sends everybody for a little bit of a curve, and we responded with our proposal to combat some of the things they're complaining about so we don't have to revisit this in another couple of years."
The two sides are approaching the negotiations from extremely different viewpoints, Ference said.
"We can talk all we want, and it doesn’t matter when there's no real date from their side. If the first option of pressure is a lockout, then it doesn’t really matter," he said. "We're coming at this from a mature point of view and a realistic point of view. Our proposal we believe was realistic. It's not like we have a guy [NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr] in there that doesn't know what he's talking about. He brought a lot of financial success to baseball under his leadership and his plans as well. So to continue playing under a system that they so badly wanted and got, I don't think is such an extreme idea."
For now, the players seem to be waiting for the lockout to simply become a formality on Saturday, and then they will try and get a sense of where the talks are going and how long the work stoppage could last. Ference, Rask, Shawn Thornton, David Krejci, Tyler Seguin, Dennis Seidenberg and Torey Krug all told the media Monday they would play in other leagues if need be, but none of them had any agreements to do so at this point.
On Friday, in a conference call to announce a new deal for forward Brad Marchand, Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli said the Bruins canceled an upcoming rookie camp and tournament.
The NHL has had three labor disputes since April 1, 1992, when players held a 10-day strike that forced 30 games to be rescheduled. The most recent two were lockouts; the last one wiped out the entire 2004-05 season.
Information from ESPNNewYork.com's Katie Strang was used in this report.