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St. Louis Blues players preparing to play, but also girding for possible lockout

ST. LOUIS - St. Louis Blues players are eager to follow up on the franchise's breakthrough 109-point season, even as they prepare for the possibility of a lockout.

The NHL collective bargaining agreement is set to expire Sept. 15, adding an element of tension to involuntary workouts. After an informal workout on Thursday, centre Scott Nichol said it's just day by day.

"We're all really excited," he said. "All the guys are back in, we've got a great group and just chomping at the bit to get back going."

The main sticking point in the impasse that threatens the upcoming season is hockey-related revenue. Defenceman Barret Jackman said the percentages don't add up, yet he is hopeful there will be movement in negotiations as the deadline nears.

"We gave the league incentive to grow the business. Anything on top of what they've already done is their chunk of money," he said.

Because of the uncertainty, some players have delayed coming to St. Louis. Training camp is set to open Sept. 21.

Jackman said he was "absolutely devastated" by the lockout that claimed the 2004-05 season, resulting in a salary cap going forward. He said this year is a different story, describing the NHL today as a "thriving business."

"We realize there are some teams at the bottom that are kind of struggling, teams like Phoenix and a couple teams in Florida," Jackman said. "It's tough to sit by and watch hockey take the beating it is, but hopefully this isn't a long-term thing and we'll get going."

In 2004, the NHLPA was prepared to sit out the season, with players quickly making arrangements to play in Europe. This time around, Blues players said there's the sense that both sides want to make a deal.

"I think both sides are really adamant to get things going, get it resolved and quicker," Nichol said. "The last lockout, looking back now, guys were taking off for Europe relatively early.

"Not here and now. Guys are really unified and hunkered in to start the season and everyone's status quo and coming into their respective cities and getting things going."

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