Back on the ice with some Washington Capitals teammates this week, Jason Chimera acknowledged the atmosphere isn't the same.
"I guess it's a little bit of a different feeling than in years past because we don't know what's going to happen," Chimera said.
A lockout, which would start at 11:59 p.m. Saturday if the NHL's owners and players fail to bridge what appears to be a wide gap in their labor negotiations, is the elephant in the room.
It comes at time when players would rather focus on hockey. The possibility of a work stoppage disturbs veterans such as Chimera.
"I missed a whole year [the 2004-05 season] the one lockout, so it's pretty frustrating. And to miss any game, I don't want to use it, but pretty embarrassing as a league to lock us out and not start the season [on time], for sure," he said. "I mean, we want to play, I think that's the biggest thing. We want to kind of hash it out."
If the two sides hope to avoid that embarrassment, they'd better act quickly. As of Tuesday afternoon, no formal discussions were scheduled between the NHL and the players' association.
But that doesn't mean there won't be talking. The NHLPA is holding meetings in New York City on Wednesday and Thursday and expects more than 250 players to attend.
Defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner will represent the Capitals, along with a couple of other players. Forward Matt Hendricks said he and his teammates talked last week about who was going.
"It's very important. We want to have a strong group there from our team," Hendricks said. "When you can get it first-hand in person, it's better than over the phone, but we still have a lot of outlets that we've been given to get all the details we need."
Chimera expects to be involved in future meetings and negotiations, though he's staying in the D.C. area this week for his children's first day of school. He said he'll get plenty of feedback from the likes of Alzner and Carlson, who will want to spread what they learn around the locker room.
That's something that will be happening around the league.
"I think a lot of guys around the league are going to go to this one," Carlson said. "It's crunch time, so I think it'll be big for everyone to kind of shell out what we want to shell out."
At 22 and 23 years old, Carlson and Alzner's presence at NHLPA meetings is symbolic of just how many young players have involved themselves in this labor tussle.
"I think that you look at all the marquee guys around the league right now, and they're all fairly young. That should tell you that's the future of the game," Carlson said. "That's who should be paying attention more because nothing against the older guys, but they might have only six or seven years left when other guys can have 10 or 15."
Still, count on veterans to be in attendance. Capitals forward Troy Brouwer over the summer expressed his interest in staying involved in the process, which affects all players.
That's why so many will be in New York this week.
"I think everyone, we're all on board," Carlson said. "We're all on the same team, and we're all trying to do the same thing and that's to play hockey."
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