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Lockout watch: P.K. Subban concerned about fans amid labour uncertainty

TORONTO - After a summer of uncertainty, P.K. Subban is more concerned about the fans than himself.

The 23-year-old defenceman remains without a contract from the Montreal Canadiens and could be one of 750 players locked out by the NHL next week, but his worries run deeper than that when he surveys the league's current labour climate.

"Obviously, it's an unfortunate situation," Subban said Wednesday in an interview. "Nobody wants to see (a lockout). I think at this point you're more concerned about the fans and making sure that the fans don't get hurt because ultimately those are the people that support us.

"I think that that's the only downer about it, is just you don't want to see the fans get hurt."

The NHL's collective bargaining talks remain on hold and the current agreement is set to expire on Sept. 15. If that date passes, the league will enact a lockout, which would be the third since 1994.

In recent weeks, commissioner Gary Bettman has said he shares the fans' desire of not wanting to see another work stoppage. He also credited the paying customers for helping the league rebound so strongly from the 2004-05 lockout.

"We recovered well last time because we have the world's greatest fans," Bettman said last month.

Subban hadn't even yet reached the Ontario Hockey League when that NHL season was cancelled eight years ago.

He admits that it's been a little unusual preparing for a training camp that might not open as expected on Sept. 21. However, he expressed confidence in NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr—"he's one of the smartest people in North America," said Subban—and believes there's a deal to be made.

"As far as players go, all we know is playing hockey," said Subban. "That's what's gotten us to the NHL. We want to see a game on the ice, we just hope than the owners and our association can come to a fair agreement sooner than later.

"That's what we want out of this whole thing is just a fair agreement—something that works for the players and works for the owners and works for the league."

Even with the start of the season up in the air, Subban is managing to keep busy. This week he helped launch "Hyundai Hockey Helpers," which is a new program that will provide 1,000 needy children with grants of up to $500 to help pay for hockey equipment and registration fees.

The son of a Jamaican immigrant, Subban relied on hand-me-down equipment as a young boy and can identify with the struggles faced by many Canadian families. He's also a popular figure with kids, as Hyundai Canada president and CEO Steve Kelleher witnessed Tuesday at a launch event.

"We couldn't drag PK off the ice," said Kelleher. "He was out there—him and his brother (Malcolm)—for about half an hour playing keeping away with the kids. It was totally great. He connects with the kids."

That kind of interaction comes naturally for the affable Subban.

"I've always wanted to be able to give back," he said. "I've had that passion since I started in the NHL. ... It's a privilege for me to a part of this."

Subban is hopeful that he'll soon be able to get back to doing what he loves best.

He's currently in need of a contract after his entry-level deal expired at the end of last season. Negotiations with the Habs have been slow and Subban indicated he was unsure if the labour uncertainty was to blame.

"It's a process just like the CBA," he said. "At the end of the day, I don't write the contracts myself. ... I'm just going to be patient and wait for things to materialize. Hopefully, they happen sooner or later."

Unlike NHLers who are currently under contract, he wouldn't have to wait for a lockout to officially begin before signing a deal to play in Europe should there be a work stoppage.

However, the blue-liner would prefer to continue preparing as though the NHL will start on time.

"I'm just keeping my plate full and once the time comes to make those decisions I will," said Subban.

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