- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 18, 2012

A lot of NHL players are satisfying their itch to play hockey during the lockout by signing overseas or in lower-level North American leagues.

For those who haven’t decided to ride things out by playing meaningful games for paychecks, informal practices are about all they have. Except for when guys get together to put on a game for charity.

That’s what happened in recent weeks around New York and Philadelphia, as ex-NHL enforcer Todd Fedoruk and others drummed up interest in a game to benefit victims of Superstorm Sandy. It’ll happen Saturday in Atlantic City, N.J., and Rangers forward Jeff Halpern and Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson will take part.

“It’s not as intense as a playoff game, but I think because guys are sick of the practices with each other all the time, you’re looking for a bit of competition,” Halpern said in a phone interview Friday. “It’s a good excuse to just play a hockey game.”

It’s a hockey game with plenty of star power. The Anaheim Ducks’ Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry are playing, as are Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos and Pittsburgh Penguins wing James Neal. But given that it’s being played at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, naturally the game is full of Rangers and Flyers, including Brad Richards, Henrik Lundqvist, Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen.

“I know John Carlson, who’s a New Jersey native, really wanted to be a part of that game,” Halpern said.

Carlson tweeted: “What’s better than watching hockey and giving back to the victims of Sandy?”

Perhaps playing NHL games. The league and NHL Players’ Association are set to resume collective bargaining negotiations Monday in New York City, at the players’ behest.

Asked what he expected out of these talks, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an email: “We have no particular expectation. We will see what happens.”

If the sides do meet as planned, it will end an eight-day break. There was a report last week that commissioner Gary Bettman asked for a two-week moratorium on talks. Halpern called the notion of that “insane.”

“The numbers aren’t far apart. The players have agreed to get to 50/50 whether it’s in Year 1 or Year 3; everything can be negotiated,” Halpern said. “I don’t understand it because the league was doing so well and it was such a great partnership that I don’t know. I just have a hard time understanding why this came about.”

More than two months into the lockout, there are more questions than answers. In the meantime, though, players gathering in Atlantic City and trying to make something good out of a less-than-ideal situation.

“If we were playing, we would have a much easier forum to be able to give back to a lot of the affected areas and a lot of the communities,” Halpern said. “Right when the hurricane first hit, I think we wanted to do something like this.”

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