O'Donnell puts NHLPA ahead of career

Sean O'Donnell began his NHL career in the lockout-shortened season of 1994-95 and knows very well he may see it end by yet another lockout.

The 41-year-old unrestricted free agent understands the facts. Of the players who were on an NHL roster for 40 or more days in 2003-04 (before the yearlong lockout of 2004-05), 121 did not return for the 2005-06 season, according to the NHLPA. Ninety-six players who played 40 or more games in 2003-04 did not return after the lockout, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

O’Donnell knows he might very well be one of the many lockout casualties this time around.

"Even if the lockout ends quickly, there’s still no guarantees that I’m going to find work this year," O’Donnell told ESPN.com Wednesday. "And if I don’t, I think I had a pretty good career. But you can say 100 percent sure that if this goes long or we miss the whole year, then my career is done. But it’s one of those things where you have to think what’s best for the union."

The defenseman, as popular a teammate as there has been during his 17 NHL seasons, is willing to sacrifice his own well-being for what he believes is right.

"The players that were in this league before me took care of me and made sure I got paid well and got paid fair, and I’ve had a good career because of it," said O’Donnell, who played in Chicago last season. "So, that means it’s my responsibility -- even if that means it costs me the end of my career -- I have to do what’s right for the guys that are coming down the road."

Don’t get this guy wrong. O’Donnell isn’t a militant, brainwashed player who is ready to jump off a bridge for the union cause. But he also feels he knows what’s right and what’s wrong in his heart and mind.

"I’m a big believer that owners put up a lot of money to buy these teams, they need to make money, but sometimes I feel they don’t negotiate maybe with the best interests at heart," O’Donnell said. "To come in at 43 percent right off the bat (the NHL’s first offer last July), some of the moves the owners have done, it seems to me like this partnership they talk about, or dealing in good faith -- their actions are saying more than their words."

And when you listen to a battle-scared warrior like O’Donnell talk, you realize once again that while players may eventually give in under financial pressure from the ongoing lockout, it’s certainly not going to come any time soon.

You see, these are hockey players. They’re different from other pro athletes.

"One of the things NHL owners love about NHL players is that you’re willing to do whatever it takes for the team,” O’Donnell said. "You’re willing to block a shot, you’re willing to fight a guy if it’s going to pick your team up. Whatever it takes for the team. Hockey I think has the least individual element in it out of all the team sports. Well I think what owners have to remember is that in this situation, this is a team of 700 or 750 players. Guys will sacrifice individually for the good of the team, not only this year’s team but the team down the road."

Like many of us, O’Donnell sees a deal that’s there to be made.

"The players want a fair deal. I don’t think the players are greedy," he said. "We want the owners to honor the contracts that are already signed. I don’t think the players are sticking at 57 or 56 or 55 percent, there’s a number that works. But I don’t think it’s realistic for owners to expect to get down to 50 percent immediately. If we can get a soft landing over the first two or three years, it’s my opinion that the players would be open to that. I don’t know that for sure, but that’s what I think."

What O’Donnell is saying is that the players are willing to give, within reason.

"Players have a lot of pride," he said. "We’re willing to give a lot. I hope the owners realize our resolve. If there’s a fair deal there to be had, I think we can get this thing done in the next week. But if they’re really willing to push and try and break us ... I don’t think that’s going to happen. I really hope the owners don’t believe the players are going to break."