NHL lockout begins; no talks on tap

4th work stoppage since 1992 unfolds

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Nothing magical pertaining to the NHL happened at midnight, and it might take a lot more midnights before it does.

With no collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expired at the witching hour, the league early this morning locked out its players -- the fourth NHL work stoppage since 1992.

No formal negotiating sessions between the NHL and the NHL Players Association are scheduled, although the sides touched base a few times over the past few days. Until there is a new CBA, the lockout will bulldoze through training camps, which are scheduled to begin Friday, and through the regular season, which is slated to open Oct. 11.

The Penguins home opener is Oct. 13 against Buffalo.

It is believed that a full -- if perhaps compressed -- 82-game season could be salvaged if an agreement is reached by mid- to late October, but at the conclusion of a well-attended players union meeting last week in New York, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby wasn't overly optimistic.

"It depends on when we could start a full season," he said. "Right now, I don't think it's looking like we're going to start on time. If things get pushed back a bit, maybe we could still have a full season."

Penguins forward and NHLPA representative Craig Adams predicted that, even after the sides near some common ground, the process could take some time.

"You're not just going to wake up one morning and it's going to be done," Adams said. "You're going to have an idea [at some point] of whether we're moving in the right direction or closer to each other.

"It's not just going to come out of the blue, where one day there will be no hope, and the next day we'll be playing. It's going to be more of a steady buildup. When that starts, and when we can get some traction, who knows?"

The main sticking point is money -- how to split revenues that reached a record $3.3 billion last season. Under the CBA that expired, the players received 57 percent over the past seven seasons. Commissioner Gary Bettman has made it clear the owners want the players to take a sizable paycut.

The NHLPA, in its most recent proposal, has come down to the lower 50s in percent, with some fluctuation. The league's latest proposal included a phase-in but remained under 50 percent. Bettman said, however, that such an offer was to be pulled at midnight, and that the players should not expect better terms in future offers.

Increased revenue sharing also has been a negotiating point. Other issues -- among them free agency, arbitration, entry-level contract length, realignment, Olympics participation and concussion safety -- have been put on the back burner but are expected to be addressed in a new CBA.

For now, players are on their own. Although they have an escrow payment coming next month, they will not receive regular paychecks during the lockout. Contact between players and clubs is prohibited, and the players cannot access team facilities.

In the short term, many will skate in groups, buying ice time in their NHL cities or hometowns. At least a handful of Penguins hope to rent ice at Southpointe on weekdays, but they must use the public, rather than the team, locker-room facilities.

Players also need to procure health and salary insurance.

Crosby is among some across the league with interest in playing in Europe if the lockout persists, but, for now, he plans to maintain Pittsburgh as his base.

The Penguins Saturday assigned 23 players -- headlined by defensemen Simon Despres and Joe Morrow and winger Beau Bennett, all former first-round draft picks -- to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League and sent defensemen Derrick Pouliot, Olli Maatta and Scott Harrington to their respective junior teams.

Many European NHL players, who would have been making their way to North America by now, have remained overseas.

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, the reigning league scoring champion and MVP, and former Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar plan to play as early as this week with Metallurg of the Kontinental Hockey League in Malkin's Russian hometown of Magnitogorsk.

Malkin played for Metallurg before joining the Penguins, and he and Gonchar played there in 2004-05 -- a season that was wiped out in the NHL because of a lockout.

The NHL postponed 30 games in 1992-93 because of a players strike, and the 1994-95 season was shortened to 48 because of a lockout.

This is the third lockout by a major North American sports league in the past 18 months.

The NFL's last year mostly spanned the offseason and part of training camp. No regular-season games were missed. The NBA season was delayed until around Thanksgiving and shortened to 66 games.

Penguins center Brandon Sutter, 23, obtained from Carolina in June in the Jordan Staal trade, is going back to western Canada after spending a week skating with some teammates in Pittsburgh, with a side trip to New York for the NHLPA meetings.

"I'm thinking I'm going to sit tight and try and wait this thing out, and, hopefully, we find the right deal," he said, no doubt speaking for many NHL players.


For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly.


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