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Jonathan Toews: NHL players bracing for tough talks

Hawks center Jonathan Toews is defended by Jets defenseman DustByfuglien first period as Chicago Blackhawks host Winnipeg Jets Thursday October

Hawks center Jonathan Toews is defended by Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien in the first period as the Chicago Blackhawks host the Winnipeg Jets Thursday October 13, 2011 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 29, 2012 5:14PM

NHL Players’ Association executive director Donald Fehr was at the podium, but it was the players — from young stars to veterans without contracts — who stood with him who delivered the real message.

They’re ready for a long, tumultuous fight with the league over a new collective bargaining agreement, and that includes Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews.

“For myself, it’s a huge priority to keep track of what’s going on and to be on top of things,” Toews said after the NHLPA meeting concluded in downtown Chicago on Wednesday. “There is always uncertainty. But you’ve got to be confident in these situations and be confident in each other, especially the players amongst themselves.”

The first meeting between the NHLPA and league over a new CBA will be Friday. Several top ­players belong to the NHLPA’s 31-player negotiating committee, including the Islanders’ John Tavares, the Red Wings’ Henrik Zetterberg, the Coyotes’ Shane Doan and the Predators’ Shea Weber. Blackhawks defenseman Steve Montador also will be on the committee, which should grow in number.

Fehr, who was in charge of the MLB Players Association during the 1994-95 strike, declined numerous times to get into specifics about which issues are most pressing for the NHLPA.

But the NHL is expected to try to lower the players’ maximum take of league revenue (currently at 57 percent). It’s also thought the league might try to put limits on contracts.

During the last lockout, for the 2004-05 season, the players conceded plenty — Fehr described it as “enormous concessions” this week — as the owners got the salary cap that now defines the NHL. Now, league revenues and television ratings are at all-time highs.

Of course, the players have been a huge part of that success.

“The object is to get a deal done that can continue that momentum and continue it uninterrupted,” Fehr said.

The current CBA expires on Sept. 15, but Fehr said the season can go on as planned if negotiations continue in good faith.

“If there is no new agreement and if the parties are willing to continue negotiating to try and get it, you can continue to work under the terms of the old agreement — until somebody is no ­willing longer to do that,” Fehr said.

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