Cullen not surprised NHL is on the verge of lockout

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 12, 2012 - 6:07 AM

The Wild veteran hopes that talks will heat up as start of camps near.

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Wild forward Matt Cullen

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune file

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Matt Cullen is 35 and set to begin the last year of a three-year contract that brought him back to the state where he was born and played hockey as a child, teenager and collegian.

But even the Wild veteran's young son, Brooks, knows that season is in peril.

"My 5-year-old asked me, 'Is there going to be lockout, dad?'" Cullen said. "I was like, 'How do you even know what the word is?' It's no fun."

Even the typically optimistic Cullen is reading soggy tea leaves over the chance a new collective bargaining agreement is agreed upon by 11 p.m. Saturday, when the current CBA expires and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman follows with a second NHL work stoppage in eight years.

"It's a little bit disappointing, but I don't really feel like it's surprising after going through the last one," said Cullen, referring to the lockout that resulted in the extermination of the 2004-05 season. "I don't know how that will be avoided. I don't think that they're close enough right now for anything."

Cullen won't be in New York on Wednesday, but more than 250 NHL players, including new Wild teammates Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, will be for two days of meetings with NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr.

On Thursday, the NHL Board of Governors meets in New York. Wild owner Craig Leipold and General Manager Chuck Fletcher plan to attend, and Bettman plans to update the board on collective bargaining. Bettman already has the authority from the board to lock out the players Saturday night if a new CBA can't be reached.

On Tuesday, it was reported that the player's negotiating committee held a 90-minute conference call, and the NHL and NHLPA will meet Wednesday morning. But it was fuzzy if either side planned to make a new proposal.

Though he believes there will be a lockout, Cullen remains hopeful that a deal can be made before games are missed.

"I just don't really feel like the optimism has died," Cullen said. "We're still over a week out from camp starting. I think once you get close to camp, then the real stuff starts, the real negotiations start. Everybody right now is posturing. As we get closer to some real deadlines, hopefully things will start to get done."

Cullen lived through the lockout eight years ago. Because he was younger, because he was making a fraction of what he is earning now, losing a season didn't hit him as hard as the potential of losing this one does.

Cullen realizes if there's a lockout, this is money and a part of his career that never can be recovered.

"Whenever these things happen, the players, along with of course the fans, are the only ones who get hurt through these," Cullen said. "I mean, the owners come out of it fine. That's just the way it is.

"The players are the ones that get hurt because our careers are limited. We only have so many years to play and only have so many years to make a living.

"It hits me a lot different than the last one, for sure. I understand that I don't have too many years left. I hope to play for a while, but I understand I'm on the back nine. If you're in your last few years, the last thing you want to do is miss any time."

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