NHL Lockout won't curtail workouts for Penguins

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Penguins players will gather at Southpointe this morning, just as they have nearly every weekday for a while now.

There should be about a dozen of them, give or take a couple, and their on-ice routine doesn't figure to change much.

The players who show up for the informal workout likely will loosen up for a while, then run through some drills and cap the session with a scrimmage. Most likely four-on-four, maybe five-on-five if the turnout is good enough.

But this workout, which is designed to prepare players for the training camp that is scheduled to start Friday, will be unlike any that preceded it.

It will be the first they've held since the NHL imposed a lockout on its players late Saturday night, and that changes just about everything. Players will be dressing not in their customary quarters -- the spacious, well-lit area with carpeting and nameplates above each stall -- but in a rustic locker room generally used by high school and youth teams.

They may or may not be wearing Penguins practice sweaters and hockey socks, but members of the team's equipment staff won't be washing and drying them after the practice the way they have been.

And while the players might be running through many of the same drills they have been for most of this month, conditioning coach Mike Kadar won't be supervising them. Professional interaction between locked-out players and team employees is forbidden until the NHL and its players' association work out a new collective bargaining agreement.

There is not, at least for now, much reason to believe that will happen anytime soon, because the sides remain far apart on the core economic issues that have put the league into suspended animation. There were no negotiations Sunday, and none have been announced.

The Penguins do not, at this point, plan to lay off any staffers or reduce anyone's salary because of the lockout, even though that obviously could change if it drags on long enough. The team did not get rid of employees in the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season, although a number left on their own.

The team is expected to contact season-ticket holders, sponsors and others who have made payments for the 2012-13 season today to inform them of contingency plans if the lockout causes games to be canceled.

There is some urgency to get that word out, even though teams are not supposed to open camp until Friday, because season-ticket holders are required to purchase tickets for preseason games, the first of which the Penguins were scheduled to play next Monday in Columbus, Ohio.

Few expect camps to open on time, and there is little optimism that a settlement will be reached in time to salvage the exhibition schedule. Nonetheless, players feel they must approach the workouts they've organized as if NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA head Donald Fehr will soon sculpt a settlement that satisfies both sides and reduces this lockout to nothing more than a historical footnote.

"Training camp could still start on the 21st," left winger Chris Kunitz said. "I think you still have to prepare. That's what your job is, to be ready for a season."

Right winger Pascal Dupuis said the turnout today should be close to the 14 or 15 who showed up for most of last week, but acknowledged that attendance "probably" will drop off if the lockout lasts for a couple of weeks and players begin to return to their hometowns or seek jobs with European teams. Defenseman Deryk Engelland made the trip to Pittsburgh from his offseason residence in Las Vegas a week ago, and has no immediate plans to return there.

"I'll be here for a while," he said.

Long enough, at least, to get a sense of whether the season might start anytime soon.

And perhaps whether there will be a season at all.

NOTES -- Penguins center Evgeni Malkin and ex-Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar signed to play with Metallurg Magnitogorsk during the lockout. ... Former Penguins right winger Jaromir Jagr will play for Kladno in the Czech Elite League. No surprise there, since Jagr owns the team.


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


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