Penguins running low on optimism

Deadline to keep 82 games passes

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It was as predictable as a sunrise in the East, and about as eventful.

The NHL's deadline for salvaging an 82-game season this winter passed Thursday with nary a whimper.

Or a negotiating session.

That hardly was a shock -- the league and the NHL Players' Association have met only sporadically in recent months to work out a new collective bargaining agreement and never have come close to succeeding, but it still was a significant milestone in the lockout that has shut down the league since mid-September.

And which, from most indications, could drag on indefinitely.

Although the league hasn't formally announced a new round of game cancellations, that is expected to happen today. Some observers believe the entire schedule for November will be called off, although that remains speculation at this point.

The league also figures to give formal notification to the NHLPA today that its most recent CBA proposal has been yanked off the table because it was predicated on playing 82 games.

Given all that, and with the carrot of having a full season no longer dangling before them, both sides might lose some of the urgency to work toward an agreement.

"There's always that fear," said Penguins player representative Craig Adams.

Of course, the league and union haven't met since late last week, so it's not as if a desperate effort by the negotiators couldn't quite get a deal finalized before the league-imposed deadline Thursday.

Fact is, while some not involved in the talks continue to insist that the parties are closer to a deal than appears to be the case, an unscientific sampling of Penguins players turned up little optimism that an agreement is near.

"Not really," winger Tyler Kennedy said.

"Nothing yet."

Although most players have remained outwardly upbeat about the prospects for a settlement, most of those asked Thursday seemed to recognize a while ago that playing fewer than 82 games in 2012-13 was possible, if not likely.

"You hope, obviously, but, realistically, I think that if you'd said in June that games could be missed, I don't think anyone would have said, 'You're crazy,' " Adams said.

Kennedy was among those who conceded that he didn't expect the lockout to stretch into late October, let alone beyond it.

"I definitely never thought it would go this far," he said. "I thought, for sure, that we'd be playing by now."

However deflating it will be for all concerned to have an abbreviated season, defenseman Matt Niskanen believes preserving as many games as possible should be all the motivation the owners and union need to strive for a settlement.

"A 70-game schedule is better than no games, so there's still incentive for both sides to try to work something out," he said.

"It's unfortunate that it's come to this ... that we're not going to be able to get in a full schedule, but I think everybody -- fans, us, everybody -- would really benefit from a 75- or 70-game schedule.

"It's still something to work toward."

So far, there has been precious little progress toward attaining that goal, and if there has been any momentum in the negotiations, it hasn't been positive.

And the longer the status quo holds in the talks, the less likely it is that some players who have been skating without pay will accept their current situations.

While Kennedy was adamant that he does not plan to seek work overseas -- "I don't really want to go to Europe," he said. "I'm not a big fan of Europe" -- several teammates might be looking to join Evgeni Malkin, Deryk Engelland and Dustin Jeffrey there if the NHL doesn't get a new CBA soon.

"My big reason why I didn't want to go [to Europe] early was that I didn't want to go play 10 or 15 games, then have to come back and play a full schedule," Niskanen said.

"I thought that would just be too much, especially with the crammed schedule that we would have had. Now that we're almost inevitably going to be playing fewer games, in the next two weeks to a month, I'll start investigating, looking at some options.

"That's definitely an interest. I want to play this year."

NOTE -- Adams and former Penguins Jordan Staal and Alex Goligoski are scheduled to play in a charity game in Chicago tonight.

penguins

Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @molinaripg.


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