The memories are enough to give Bill Guerin the shivers. Eight years ago he was a high-scoring winger with the Dallas Stars coming off one of the best seasons of his career and in the midst of a three-year deal paying him $26 million.

But it all changed quickly, as Guerin and the other members of a small NHLPA executive committee manned the frontlines in what became the longest, most divisive and costly labour stoppage in professional sports history.

“It was tough on everybody,” said Guerin, retired since 2010 and now the player development coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins. “I hear lockout and I get nervous. The game is going so well right now — I’m sure there are some tough cases for ownership — but I’d hate to see any kind of stoppage, but we’ll see.

“In the end it’s a business too. It really is.”

Guerin and his peers lost money they were never able to earn back and saw a season of their careers disappear in acrimony.

This week a (mostly) new generation of players will be meeting in a downtown Chicago hotel to get organized to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with the NHL. The union leadership is new also, and in many ways so are the issues. Likely owners, players and fans are united on one front: no one wants to see more games lost.

Whether it happens or not will depend on what each side is willing to compromise on. The fans, arena employees, team staff and surrounding businesses can only watch and hope they find a palatable middle ground.

The last lockout was broadly about NHL owners trying (and succeeding) to impose a new financial system, one featuring a hard salary cap and player salaries tied to league revenues. This time around it’s expected negotiations will focus on how each side can shape the existing system to serve their needs best.

While neither side has presented formal positions, it’s expected that the primary issue of contention will be the owners’ effort to share less of the league’s revenues with the players. The NFL and NBA each had lockouts a year ago where the owners were able to squeeze players share of revenues down to about 50 per cent. The NHL is sharing about 57 per cent of revenues with their players.

It’s not expected to be an easy negotiation — the players feel like they made massive concessions in 2004-05, including a 24 per cent wage rollback. But Guerin feels like getting an agreement this time might be a little more straightforward.

“I wasn’t optimistic at all last time, not even close, but this time, you know what? We went through it, there is a cap system in place,” he said. “We’ll see what tweaks are made, but the big thing is the system is in place.”

The old CBA — the one Guerin and his peers lost an entire season over — expires on Sept. 15. Despite a relatively rosy financial picture where record league revenues of $3.2 billion this past season represent a 195 per cent increase over league revenues in 2003-04 — the last before the lockout — the owners exercised their right to terminate the agreement.

How bitter the fight will be this time around remains to be seen. The two sides haven’t set a date to begin negotiating, though NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr — who sits in the seat occupied by Bob Goodenow eight years ago — said Friday that formal meetings could begin as early as this week.

One change the NHLPA is implementing will be to have a much larger group of players involved in the negotiating process. Guerin was part of an executive committee of seven players who participated in more than a year of negotiations. This time around it’s expected at least 30 players be involved, a move Guerin applauds.

“It was tough (as a small group), so many guys want a piece of you, so many guys want to be informed and want to talk and you’re flying everywhere — I think I flew Dallas to Toronto 19 or 20 times — so a big number of guys, that’s good,” he said. “Sharing the load is important.”

Privately sources with both the NHL and the NHLPA confirmed that there have been quiet ‘off-the-record’ conversations taking place between the key figures on each side: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly, with Fehr and his brother Steve on the other as the NHLPA’s special counsel.

Fehr was the executive director of the MLB players’ association for 23 years. He led baseball players through the 1994 strike that saw the last two months of the season and the World Series cancelled, but he likes to point out that baseball has since enjoyed uninterrupted labour peace ever since.

It’s a record hockey could surely benefit from emulating with the game in a growth phase and gaining traction in the United States in unprecedented fashion.

But two sides have to agree. As always it’s the players who have the most to lose in the near term, with their short careers and the sport their primary source of income, compared with owners that are generally engaged in other businesses and have longer horizons to absorb any losses.

That was a hard lesson Guerin and his peers learned last time. It will be interesting — and pivotal — to see what the players’ appetite for battle is this time around, should it come to that.

Michael Grange is a columnist for sportsnet.ca and a senior writer at Sportsnet magazine.