NHL lockout: No games? No pay? Just skate

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Today is the start of the work week for millions of people, including a few who aren't being paid for their labor.

Some of whom are, in fact, paying for the right to practice their craft.

Those would be the NHL players who have been locked out since mid-September but continue to rent ice time and conduct workouts to prepare for a season that might never happen.

A group of Penguins, for example, have been skating at Southpointe almost every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday for the better part of two months.

The sessions began, as they do most years, a few weeks before the scheduled opening of training camp, with the goal of preparing players for the preseason.

Attendance at the Southpointe workouts crested in the mid-teens more than a month ago, and has fluctuated since.

There's a core of a half-dozen or so guys who show up for virtually every session, but the turnout definitely has declined as autumn has progressed.

"You see the number of guys who are still around, the crew is getting smaller and smaller every week," winger Pascal Dupuis, one of the regulars, said. "Guys are getting into camps, they're in and out of town."

That group includes forwards Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and James Neal, all of whom spent last week working out with other NHLers in Dallas but are expected to take part in the Southpointe sessions in coming days.

If they show up, it could provide a spark for practices that, participants acknowledge, can get a bit tedious and stale on occasion.

"Some days are better than others, but I'm sure that's like anybody going to work any day," said forward Craig Adams, the team's player representative. "You have good days and days when you're not quite as motivated."

Thursday, he added, was one of the latter. He characterized that on-ice workout, which featured seven Penguins and a number of local players recruited to make a full-ice scrimmage possible, as "just awful."

It was, however, a coincidence that the next day's practice was called off, and a regular session is planned for this morning.

Friday's cancellation aside, the Penguins have no immediate plans to discontinue their workouts, even though there's no indication the dispute that has prompted the league to cancel its schedule through Nov. 30 will be resolved anytime soon.

"We don't have a time line, as far as when they're going to stop," center Joe Vitale said. "They're going to keep going, as long as we have enough guys here. We have enough guys with families and kids who will stick around, and who want to skate."

Still, because participation in the Southpointe workouts is voluntary, there is no guarantee of how many guys will take part on a given day. That means those who do show up have to be prepared to adjust the on-ice agenda, based on turnout.

"We've had some good days," Adams said. "You obviously have to tailor it to how many guys you have out there. I'm a big believer that whether you have two guys out there or 20, you can put in a good day's work and work on some things.

"You just have to use your imagination and be smart about it and work hard and focus. Pretty much everything we didn't do [last Thursday]."

That uncertainty about what participants can reasonably hope to accomplish going into a workout likely is a factor on those days when some are less enthused than usual about reporting to Southpointe.

"You have to be honest, you have to be up front," Vitale said. "Some days are tougher, when you don't necessarily have a good game plan or you don't know how many guys are going to show up."

Clearly, the Penguins who have been setting up their own workouts would prefer to be going through practices organized and overseen by coach Dan Bylsma and his staff, and to be preparing for games that were supposed to begin 2 1/2 weeks ago.

That won't be the case, though, until the league and NHL Players' Association hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement.

"I always tell people that what we're doing right now might be frustrating because we want to be playing," Adams said. "But we're still pretty lucky to be coming here every day and skating and going home and spending time with our families and stuff."


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


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