Minnesota Wild's Pierre-Marc Bouchard (96), Matt Cullen (7), Cal Clutterbuck and Nate Prosser (39).

Paul Vernon, Associated Press

Russo's NHL Insider: Clutterbuck glad union players 'stuck together'

  • January 19, 2013 - 10:12 PM

Just like the fans, it's amazing how quickly players were able to turn the page after the NHL lockout was lifted.

After months of unifying with their 700-plus brethren and fighting the good fight against 30 owners and a league that wanted to pull back on a whole bunch of contracting rights, the moment a deal was consummated, it was all about the team again.

This is what we love about hockey players. Pick a fight with them, and they will rally as a team and get each other's back.

"I'm just glad we stuck together," Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck said. "It was really important. Every single aspect of the collective bargaining agreement affects a player a different way. It was important that players that were making a lot of money were standing behind the guys that may be a bind in a year or two."

But at the end of the day, it was business. Sure, the players want their paychecks, but more than anything, they just want to play.

"We're happy to put the jersey on again and play, because that's what we do," Clutterbuck said. "I think fans are the same way. They were deeply upset with all of us during the lockout because they love the game.

"But just like us, it's over and they're not going to miss the game when it's back. At least the diehards won't."

"To me, the lockout's over," Clutterbuck added, before saying with pride in a Wild T-shirt, "I play for the Wild again."

Sure, there's bound to be some residue with a few players.

Montreal's Erik Cole has said he will contemplate retirement after this season because he has such a bitter taste over how the owners used and abused the players.

But you know what? Twenty-six teams opened the 2013 season Saturday, including the Canadiens. You can bet that the first time a Maple Leaf who was in a boardroom or on an NHLPA conference call with Cole slashed him across the hands, the veteran no longer was thinking about how ticked he is at the owners.

That's just the way it works. The union was Cole's team during the lockout; now the Geoff Molson-owned Canadiens are.

During the lockout, the 30-plus Minnesota-based players, including more than a dozen from the Wild, skated weekdays in Edina or on the University of Minnesota campus.

Clutterbuck became friends with a few of them, including Colorado's Erik Johnson and Dallas' Alex Goligoski.

Clutterbuck played Johnson on Saturday night. Goligoski will be at Xcel Energy Center with the Stars on Sunday.

"I didn't know these guys before, and now they're friends. They basically were like your team," Clutterbuck said. "But it's game on now."

Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom was a staunch player guy during the lockout. But he, too, has put it behind him as long as one important thing happens:

"Everyone has to learn from this," Backstrom said. "The relationship between the league and players somehow has to change now for the future. We have to be what they said last time there was a lockout -- partners.

"We have to somehow find a way to bridge that gap, build a relationship and grow the game together. We can't do this to hockey again. It shouldn't happen ever. The new CBA is 10 years. That is plenty of time to get to know each other and make a partnership work so this never happens again."

«««««« short takes »»»»»»

Free-agency talk takes back seat

It'll be interesting to see how three teams handle distractions this season.

In Anaheim, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf can become free agents this summer and are already tired of the questions.

"I'm not going to talk about it anymore," said Perry, the 2011 Hart Trophy and Maurice Richard Trophy winner. "If it gets done, it gets done. If not, we'll move forward."

In Calgary, captain Jarome Iginla and GM Jay Feaster actually held a news conference to say they won't talk about it anymore.

"We've been out of the playoffs for three years," Iginla said. "We don't need any distraction. I definitely don't want that to be the talk."

And, of course, in Vancouver, where Cory Schneider is now the No. 1 goalie, Canucks GM Mike Gillis is holding onto Roberto Luongo until his steep asking price is met. Plus, Luongo has to approve any trade. "Whether it's a couple of days, next week, two weeks, at the end of the season, it's totally fine with me," Luongo said.

Ducks coach undaunted

Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau gets a kick out of the pundits picking Anaheim to miss the playoffs by a wide margin. "We're the bottom-feeders," he said. "That's one we read today. You know what? The great thing about predictions is most people get them all wrong."

Stamkos scoring challenge

Is it possible for Tampa Bay's Steve Stamkos, who led the league with 60 goals last season, to score 50 in 48 games? "It's been brought up every day on Twitter," Stamkos said. "It's flattering that people think that."

It was fun until it wasn't ...

Heck of an atmosphere Saturday at the Staples Center. Finally, the Kings raised their Stanley Cup banner. Statues of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar were draped with Kings jerseys. All was grand -- until the game, when the Kings were smoked 5-2 by the Chicago Blackhawks.


Sunday: Dallas, 7 p.m. (FSN)

Tuesday: Nashville, 7 p.m. (FSN)

Friday: at Detroit, 6:30 p.m. (FSN)

Player to watch:

Shea Weber, Nashville

The Predators captain signed a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet with Philadelphia last summer. Nashville matched and Weber will now play his former defense partner, Ryan Suter, for the first time.

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