Though it's not the season he hoped for, Montreal Canadiens prospect Louis Leblanc is ready to gear up for action with the Hamilton Bulldogs this year.
“Obviously it's disappointing to not be able to compete for a spot in the NHL,” Leblanc told CBC Hamilton. “But I'm still excited to be back in Hamilton.”
Leblanc split last season between the Hamilton Bulldogs and the Montreal Canadiens. In his 31 games with the Bulldogs, he amassed 22 points. He was selected 18th overall by the Canadiens in 2009.
Leblanc says he tried to stay updated on the negotiation process between the NHL Players' Association and the league throughout the summer.
“It's unfortunate that we couldn't come to an agreement,” Leblanc said. “Nobody wants to be locked out — but it's a numbers game.”
As far back as November, the NHL informed the union it would be unwilling to continue operating past the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement that expired last week.
Players and owners disagree on many issues — like revenue sharing and contract length — but the biggest disparity is money.
The NHL believes too much cash is being paid out in salaries. They're calling for the players' share in revenue to be set at 49 per cent next season — down from 57 per cent in the expiring deal — and proposed that it drops to 47 per cent by the end of the six-year deal.
The union tabled an offer where the salary cap would be set to fixed increases of two per cent, four per cent and six per cent over the next three years. The system would then revert to a percentage-based system for the final two years.
Though he wishes he was getting a shot at cracking the Habs' lineup — Leblanc says he's anxious to get going with the Bulldogs this season. One of his favourite memories is playing in the outdoor AHL Winter Classic at Ivor Wynne stadium last year.
“I'm ready for bus rides with the boys, too. That's all part of being a hockey player.”
Leblanc says he's hoping for bigger crowds at AHL games this season because of the lockout, and is really looking forward to playing the Bulldogs' rival, the Toronto Marlies.
“Hopefully that rink will be full every night,” he said.
That storied rivalry is something Leblanc has experienced on two fronts — playing for the Bulldogs versus the Marlies and with the Canadiens playing the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“They're always really intense games, and more physical,” he said. “And they're always more fun to play.”
“So for now, I'm just focusing on the AHL,” Leblanc said.
“And hopefully the Bulldogs can be a top team this year."
-With files from the Canadian Press