- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2012

As the NHL and its players association trade proposals and barbs back and forth in the process of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, John Carlson skates. The Washington Capitals defenseman is doing what hockey players often do best: Thinking about hockey.

“Just working out and skating, that’s all,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t control that stuff. I just prepare myself.”

Ex-Caps veteran Jeff Halpern is doing the same thing. In fact, he has been skating with ColdRush’s Wendy Marco and Co. all summer as usual.

Former teammate Mike Knuble isn’t skating, but rather is relaxing at his home in Michigan. With no contract, he and some other players are left waiting.

The current CBA expires Sept. 15, leaving just over two weeks for the sides to talk before owners lock out the players.

“As far as a time frame, players are in limbo,” Knuble said. “You’ve got to be prepared. Maybe a deal could get done at the 11th hour and then everything’s a go and you don’t want to be left standing there waiting around.”

So few are waiting. Several Caps players began skating at the team’s practice facility along with Halpern this week, including Carlson, Mike Green, Michal Neuvirth, Mike Ribeiro, Dmitry Orlov and prospect Stan Galiev. More could be in the area after Labor Day.

It’s business as usual, at least on the ice.

“I’m going about the same way as I usually would, even as far as going up to New York and skating up there starting the end of this week,” said Halpern, who signed a one-year deal with the New York Rangers. “As far as the type of training, it’s all kind of focused on being ready for [training camp] Sept. 21. If on Sept. 15th or the 21st, whatever, maybe they tell us that it might take some more time, then I’ll readjust at that point and kind of tackle it at that point.”

Players know the reality but generally don’t want to consider what will happen if they are indeed locked out beginning at midnight the morning of Sept. 16.

“Obviously, it’s in the back of everyone’s mind, whether you’re a player, coach, owner, GM, fan, media, everybody,” Carlson said. “We put our trust into what we have and we feel strongly about it.”

It’s in the forefront of a lot of minds around hockey, including commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, who has earned the trust of players with his communication skills and reputation as a tough cookie in negotiations.

This week, the league submitted a new proposal to players that represented something of a compromise on splitting hockey-related revenue but not much movement. It appears both sides are far apart with time running out.

But for Halpern and Knuble, who both lived through the 2004-05 lockout, it doesn’t feel as bad this time around.

“Just the fact that they’re talking,” Halpern said. “You keep hearing that there’s big differences. Really the things that we’re discussing now are a lot different than seven years ago. There was major, fundamental changes that happened in the last lockout. Right now we’re talking about percentages and defining revenues. I think those kind of things, it should be easier to talk through those things than it was major, major shifts in the landscape of the CBA.”

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