Lockout may force Penguins' Letang overseas
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Timing, it has been said, is everything, and Kris Letang's usually is pretty good.
Monday morning, though, it seemed a bit peculiar.
Late Saturday night, the NHL locked out its players when the league's collective bargaining agreement expired.
About 30 hours later, Letang made his first appearance of 2012 at one of the Penguins' informal, pre-training camp workouts, joining 13 teammates for drills and a scrimmage at Southpointe.
And while it appeared to be a bit odd for a guy to report for work little more than a day after being told his job was on hold, it turns out that Letang's motivation for returning to Western Pennsylvania was more paternal than professional.
"We're expecting a baby in November," the Penguins defenseman said. "So I wanted to make sure the baby room was ready."
The room might welcome the baby just as planned, but it's not entirely clear that Letang will be around to do the same.
Although he has no immediate plans to seek work overseas, he won't rule it out if the lockout drags on.
"If we go for an extended period without playing ... I've worked out really hard and I only played 50 [actually, 51] games last season," Letang said.
"I worked hard in the summer to get in shape and it wouldn't be right for me just to sit at home and wait.
"I'm at a certain point in my life where I need to keep going, keep playing and getting better. The best way is to find the caliber [of competition] that's going to bring that."
Letang deflected a question about possibly joining teammate Evgeni Malkin with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, saying "there's nothing sure yet" about where he would go.
Many players are facing such uncertainty, and nothing happened Monday to clarify their situations. There were no negotiations then, although indications are that officials of the league and NHL Players' Association will have at least informal discussions today and might resume negotiations Wednesday.
Letang and winger Tyler Kennedy, who also made his 2012 debut Monday, were two of the 14 Penguins players who participated in a workout overseen by Penguins alum Jay Caufield.
Conditioning coach Mike Kadar had been handling that duty, but players and team personnel are not supposed to interact during the lockout. Because Caufield has run precamp sessions in the past, left winger Matt Cooke said he was an obvious choice to do it now.
"He was available and we've asked him to come out and help," Cooke said. "It was a group decision [to make the request].
"It's nice just to have someone out there who is responsible for the drills. That way, we're not arguing with each other about the drills that we're doing."
Although the workout was held at the practice facility, players picked up the tab for renting the ice and no one from the team watched, let alone took part in, the session.
While that isn't unusual at this time of year, the Penguins are, in normal times, an organization that seems closer than most. Of course, there's a very clear chain of command that's honored, but players, coaches and members of the front office interact easily and seem genuinely friendly.
"We're tight, from the top down," defenseman Deryk Engelland said.
Because of that, one of the subplots in this dispute will be how Penguins players will get along with their coaches and front-office superiors when the next CBA is put in place, however long that might take.
Obviously, the ties between groups that are, for purposes of the lockout, labor and management, could be damaged by a protracted, nasty battle between the league and NHLPA. Most players, though, say they can compartmentalize their feelings, based on circumstances at the time.
"It's obviously a business relationship [during CBA negotiations]," left winger Chris Kunitz said. "When you're working and you're playing a season, it feels more like a family."
That sentiment is especially true of franchise cornerstone Sidney Crosby and co-owner Mario Lemieux, who have been exceptionally close since Crosby joined the organization in 2005.
Crosby said they have not spoken since the lockout began -- "I don't think we're allowed," he said -- but it's inevitable that he, or some other locked-out player, and a coach or team staffer will cross paths eventually.
And when that happens, players believe they're far more likely to exchange smiles and small talk than dirty looks or muttered curses. Everyone involved, they say, understands the nature of the CBA talks, and aren't likely to take any of it personally.
"I still love my wife," winger Pascal Dupuis said. "But I have to negotiate on stuff every day."
NOTE -- Crosby has said he will consider playing overseas if the lockout drags on. While some in the organization are skeptical that he would go to Russia, Crosby's camp has had at least casual contact with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Malkin's KHL club. ... The Penguins sent an email to season-ticket holders Monday detailing their refund policy if games are canceled because of the lockout.
First Published September 18, 2012 12:00 am