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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Union rep's focus shifts to on the ice
Negotiations kept him busy during the lockout. Now the Lightning's Tim Taylor returns to his niche.
By TOM JONES
Published September 17, 2005
BRANDON - Like his teammates, Lightning forward Tim Taylor skates until he thinks he's going to lose his breakfast. He lifts weights until his arms are as heavy as soaked logs. He climbs steps until his legs feel like Jell-O.
But Lightning training camp is a breeze after all Taylor went through during the last offseason.
How's that? Wasn't there a lockout? Couldn't players sleep until noon? Bum around all day?
Most could. Not Taylor, who found himself in the hub of labor negotiations as the Lightning's representative to the players' union.
He made a dozen trips to Toronto for talks. He fielded seven or eight calls a day from teammates, some asking questions, some yelling about the (expletive) salary cap. He waded through mountains of paperwork and listened when strangers on the street criticized "million-dollar hockey players."
"It was a lot of work, a lot of time," Taylor said. "But it was fun."
Fun enough that Taylor thinks he has found a second career. He wants to work for the players' association or maybe even the NHL. But he'll get to that another day. For now, he has a job.
Technically, he is a forward, specifically a center. He doesn't score many goals (he had seven last season and only 15 in his three Lightning seasons), and he isn't huge (6 feet, 190 pounds), so he isn't a big hitter. But his attention to the little things, especially in the defensive zone and faceoff circle, and his leadership make him a key member of the Lightning.
The leadership role extended to labor negotiations.
"He was always on top of it," teammate Martin St. Louis said. "I called him a lot. It was always nice to have someone you could call who knew what was going on."
It's a thankless job, but it's one Taylor, 36 and a player rep for five years, made sure he had.
When he signed his previous contract - a contract he negotiated himself - he made sure it covered the 2004-05 season.
"Because he wanted to be sure he was the player rep," general manager Jay Feaster said. "He knew there was potentially a difficult struggle, and he wanted to be there. And I applaud him for that. And I know it wasn't easy for him."
The worst was explaining to teammates how the union gave in to a salary cap it swore it would never accept.
"The timeline changed," Taylor said. "You have to keep your mind open. I know some players were upset. They said, "Why? We said never! I don't want to vote on this. I don't want to ratify this.'
"But it's like buying a house. You make a bid and say it's your best offer. It's not good enough and then that house is still on the market a month later and you see if you can't do a little more. If you had told me a year ago we would be here now with a salary cap, I would've said no way. But things changed."
The players sat out a season, and it didn't work. Taylor thought it was fruitless to sit out another year even though he, at one time, agreed with his teammates that the new collective-bargaining agreement sounded fishy. But he studied it and changed his mind.
So he supported union leadership, told his team why it was a smart move and kept the team together.
"And he took the high road throughout," Feaster said. "He never blasted the Lightning. He knew that when this was over, we were all going to come back together. He made sure the players were together and that there were going to be no (hard feelings) with management when it ended."
Along the way, he did things he hadn't done enough of in years. He drove his kids to school, went to their Christmas concerts, watched their hockey games, helped them with homework and spent every minute of the holidays with them.
"It was refreshing," Taylor said. "And it did so much for me mentally and physically."
Taylor tested better in coach John Tortorella's skating drills than he ever has. He says he is in the best shape of his career. And he has never been more excited to play the game, particularly with a Stanley Cup to defend.
"I feel great," Taylor said, "and I've regained the step I lost after (knee) surgery five years ago. And I'm looking forward to building this game again after the lockout. We need to build the game again."
Some might suggest he has been working on that for the past year.