NHL labor: Strong show of solidarity expected

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Hundreds of players are expected to attend a meeting of the NHL Players' Association Wednesday and Thursday in New York.

It is intended as a show of solidarity, as the league in which they work moves closer to a lockout that would shut it down indefinitely.

But by Friday morning, most of those players will have gone their separate ways.

Some will return to the cities where their teams are based. Others will go back to their offseason residences. And at least a few might board flights across the Atlantic Ocean if they are convinced NHL training camps won't open Sept. 21, as scheduled.

A number of players, including Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, already have stated their intention of playing in Europe if there is a lockout in the NHL. Penguins center Sidney Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, has said that Crosby will at least consider doing that if a lockout drags on.

There are observers who see the willingness of some players to earn a paycheck in Europe while teammates and fellow NHLPA members sit at home as selfish and a serious blow to unity.

But an informal survey of Penguins players going through informal preseason workouts at Southpointe suggests that members seeking temporary employment in Europe if there is a lockout won't be a wedge issue for the NHLPA.

Players who have all but ruled out leaving North America in a labor dispute, as well as those for whom it is not yet a front-burner consideration, say they would have no hard feelings toward colleagues who do take a job in places such as Finland or Russia or Switzerland.

"It's totally up to guys," right winger James Neal said Monday. "If they want to keep playing hockey, they should have the right to keep playing hockey.

"I have no problem with it, and I haven't really heard of anybody who does."

Neal, coming off a 40-goal season in which he earned recognition as a first-team NHL all-star, would be a terrific addition for just about any European club. Landing a player with his credentials almost certainly would boost ticket sales and other revenue sources.

Neal, though, said his focus remains on preparing for the 2012-13 season, not exploring whatever options might develop if the league follows through on its threat to impose a lockout when its collective bargaining agreement with the NHLPA expires Saturday night.

"I haven't considered it," he said. "We're still pushing to play hockey here. That's really the only thing I'm worried about right now, getting ready for the hockey season. Doing my same routine as if we're going to play."

Defenseman Matt Niskanen acknowledged that he has at least contemplated the possibility of playing overseas if developments warrants, although his interest hasn't gone beyond an embryonic stage.

"It's something I've definitely thought about," he said. "I haven't looked into it or anything yet, haven't talked about it with my agent. I'm just waiting to see what happens. I'll cross that bridge when it comes."

While some NHL players might look into playing in Europe during a lockout because they need a steady source of income, more appear to be motivated by an opportunity to get into game shape and to keep their skills sharp so they can be ready if the NHL can resolve its dispute before the season would be called off.

"If it looks like there's going to be an extended lockout, it's tough to take a year off -- a full year off -- from hockey," Niskanen said. "You can ask anybody coming back from an injury how hard it is. I've never missed a full season in my life.

"At some point, it's good to get back into game action. Real hockey, not four-on-four hockey like we have here at Southpointe. It's something I'll look into when the right time comes."

Craig Adams, the Penguins' player representative, played in Italy during the lockout that snuffed the 2004-05 season.

He seems unlikely to do that again if the '12-13 season is delayed, or even canceled, but that doesn't mean he would begrudge any colleague who does.

"I've always been a big believer that guys should do whatever they feel they have to do, or want to do," Adams said. "It was a lot easier for me going over there and playing and not staying here and sitting, waiting by the phone.

"I don't believe anyone should tell anyone else what to do."

NOTES -- Forwards Tanner Glass, Joe Vitale and Dustin Jeffrey, and defenseman Dylan Reese joined the eight "regulars" Monday for the informal workouts run by Penguins players at Southpointe. ... Glass, signed as a free agent from Winnipeg in July, said it took three days to drive from his offseason residence in Saskatchewan.


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.


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