BOLTON, Mass. - Andrew Ference turned up at the Boston Bruins annual charity golf tournament wearing his NHL Players Association cap.
He was ready for the season to start—or not.
"For the most part, guys are going to play," whether it's in the NHL or in another league if there's a lockout, Ference said. "That's part of our lifestyle. You can't just sit around and twiddle your thumbs and hope things work out. We're lucky that we work in a sport where there are a lot of options."
The Bruins continued to make their way to the Boston area this week in time for training camp, even though it's becoming increasingly unlikely that the NHL season will start on time. The collective bargaining agreement expires on Saturday, and talks on a new one have stalled.
Commissioner Gary Bettman has said owners will lock the players out if a new agreement isn't reached before the deadline. The last time that happened, owners cancelled the entire 2004-05 season before getting a new system that rolled back salaries 24 per cent.
"It's their system," Ference said Monday.
"We knew what kind of deal we got last time," goaltender Tuukka Rask said. "That's not what we want this time around."
The Bruins rookies were scheduled to report on Friday, with the veterans starting training camp on Sept. 21. The NHL season is scheduled to start on Oct. 11.
Rask didn't sound optimistic.
"I hear November, December and New Year's," he said. "But no one really knows."
Asked if anyone was talking about October, he said: "No."
For Rask, a prolonged lockout would be especially disappointing. He missed the end of last season with a groin strain, but he inherited the starting job for 2012-13 when two-time Vezina Cup-winner Tim Thomas decided to take the year off. Rask is eligible to become a restricted free agent after the season, and he was hoping to establish himself as a true No. 1 goaltender before hitting the market.
"I want to play somewhere, because I haven't played in a while," he said. "I'm not good at waiting, in general. But you've just got to stay patient and wait for the games to start."
Bruins coach Claude Julien said the league has made progress since losing an entire season. He said it would be difficult to see things go backwards, but he didn't want to get in the middle of the negotiations.
"You work for the owners and you work with the players," he said. "It's just a matter of staying out of it and respecting both sides."
Julien said he would not worry about the players staying in shape if he couldn't keep an eye on them.
"I can honestly say I don't think there's a single lazy player on our hockey club," he said.
And motivated, too.
"These guys really felt that when L.A. lifted the Cup," he said, "it got taken away from us."
Boston, the 2011 Stanley Cup champion, won the Northeast Division last season, but fell in the first round to Washington in seven games. Some two months later, the Kings defeated the Devils to win the Cup, ending the Bruins' reign.
Both Rask and forward David Krejci said they have been thinking about where else they would play. Although Rask has ruled out his native Finland, he hasn't really thought about where else he might go; Krejci said he would stay in his home country, the Czech Republic.
Forward Shawn Thornton said he was more interested in a deal getting done than in looking around for other options. But he wasn't optimistic about the owners' initial proposals.
Talk of a 20 per cent to 24 per cent pay cut and applying it to revenue sharing "is not the answer," Thornton said.
"I think we're pretty strong on that point," he said. "We want the league to be strong, but just taking 20 per cent of my money and giving it to the Toronto Maple Leafs doesn't help that."