With no pomp and no circumstance, the NHL descended into a lockout as Saturday night turned into Sunday morning. The result was inevitable with the owners and players never close to bridging wide gaps in collective bargaining agreement negotiations.
It’s the third work stoppage in the past 18 years, and it came after a season in which the league reported record revenues of $3.3 billion.
“At the end of the day, a lockout is what happens when adults get in the way of a kid’s game,” Washington Capitals NHL Players’ Association representative Brooks Laich said last week. “It’s truly shame if we miss one day. It’s truly a shame.”
One day in the books, and more than likely preseason games will start to get axed this week. Regular-season games will follow, barring a speedy resolution that could save the NHL the embarrassment of the 2012-13 campaign not starting on time.
But in the short term, players and teams must figure out what comes next.
This was to be the week of Caps rookie camp, though that’s obviously not going on. Expect cancellations of training camp and other events by the league and its teams in the near future, as well.
Season-ticket holders should expect to get potential refund information soon if they haven’t received it already. There’s still time before the Caps’ opener Oct. 12, but that would take something of a negotiating miracle.
“The 15th [was] a deadline, but the 21st is when camp’s supposed to open, so that’s a deadline. First preseason game, that’s when revenue starts to come in is a deadline, and obviously the start of the regular season, another deadline,” Laich said. “I don’t think our guys are too worked up about it. We understand what we’re fighting for, and we’re prepared not to give in.”
Players are taking different paths to stay in shape and, in some cases, get paid elsewhere.
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin is expected to sign a deal in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League that would allow him to return to the NHL once a new CBA is reached, similar to those agreed to by Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk.
“Of course I think about it because my hometown have teams and my Russian Federation have a league,” Ovechkin said earlier this month. “Of course I’m probably going to be there. But I don’t want to be there; I want to be here.”
That’s the thought process for most North American players, at least in the early going of this lockout.
Most will go back to their hometowns, though a few Caps, including defenseman John Carlson, center Mike Ribeiro and forward Jason Chimera will remain in the D.C. area to skate.
“I’m sticking around. I plan to go to some meetings and hopefully try to get something done,” said Chimera, who played in Italy during the 2004-05 lockout. “But I’m sticking around here, my kids are here and that’s a big thing.”
Some, such as right wings Joel Ward and Wojtek Wolski, who were skating at the Caps’ practice facility, went home to Toronto. Right wing Troy Brouwer, who’s wife is expecting the couple’s first child in October, is waiting out the work stoppage in Chicago.
Europeans were expected to venture home en masse, with the possible exception of defenseman Dmitry Orlov, who could play in the KHL or for the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League. Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson could play in Sweden, especially if the elite league there decides to allow NHL players to sign deals and then return to North America when the lockout ends.
“It depends how long the lockout’s going to be. If it’s just going to be a couple weeks I just don’t want to fly home and play a couple games,” Backstrom said. “But we’ll see what happens.”
That’s the approach for U.S. and Canadian players, too, especially if this is an extended work stoppage. There’s nothing stopping them from going to Europe to earn a few paychecks.
“I grew up loving the game of hockey, not loving the NHL. All players, we want to play hockey. And the beauty of the game today is it’s a global game, and there’s other opportunities,” Laich said. “This is the most competitive and toughest league to make in the world. This is where the best hockey players are, so if they’re available, other teams are going to come calling.”