NHL games canceled through Dec. 30
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An optimist might believe that Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik has returned to this area because he thinks the NHL lockout is about to end.
A pessimist might feel that Orpik has come back to collect his belongings and take them to his offseason residence in Massachusetts.
But a meteorologist probably wouldn't have much trouble guessing his real motivation.
"Truthfully?" Orpik said. "I don't have snow tires on my car yet. I left them down here. I don't want to get stuck in Boston. I pushed [leaving them back] as long as I could.
"That was the primary reason. Then, I'm still paying rent here, so I might as well get something out of it.
"It had nothing to do with [any possibility of the lockout ending]. It snowed a couple of times in Boston, so we figured [we had been delaying] it as long as we could."
Orpik was one of a dozen Penguins to take part in a players-organized workout Monday at Southpointe, just hours before the NHL announced that games through Dec. 30 have been canceled.
So far, 526 games, which is 42.8 percent of the regular season, have been lost to the dispute, which has shut down the league since mid-September.
The cancellation announcement is primarily for the benefit of people who book events into arenas where NHL teams are based, because if and when the 2012-13 season starts, the schedule will have to be redone and almost certainly will be limited to intra-conference games.
Precisely how close the sides were to an agreement when talks abruptly broke off Thursday remains, like so much else in this lockout, a point of contention.
NHL Players' Association head Donald Fehr told a news conference that day that a deal was near; his upbeat assessment still was being digested when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told the same group of reporters that he had no idea how Fehr had reached such a conclusion.
And that, oh yeah, the NHL proposal that presumably was the basis for Fehr's evaluation no longer was available to the players.
Those conflicting takes on where the talks stood sparked wild swings in expectations among many who aren't directly involved in the talks -- some went from discussing when the season might start to being convinced it never will in less than an hour -- but Orpik said he didn't get emotionally invested in the day's developments.
"That's happened like three or four times now, it seems," he said.
It is widely expected that negotiations will resume this week, although no meetings have been scheduled.
And while it is impossible to know for certain which issues will be the most difficult to resolve, the top candidates seem to be contract lengths and structure, the duration of the CBA and transition-related matters such as whether escrow payments should be capped or buyouts that don't count against the salary-cap ceiling should be allowed.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly characterized term limits on player contracts as "the hill we will die on."
That made for a terrific sound bite, to be sure, but Orpik suggested that the maximum length of contracts isn't the first issue the league has portrayed as make-or-break since the talks started.
"I think it's been tough to identify what exactly their hill is," he said. "It's kind of changed throughout the whole process. That's been one of the tougher things to try to figure out with the whole situation. Some guys refer to it as a 'moving target.'
"At one point, it seems like just [the division/sharing of] money was the issue, and they were willing to forgo all of the contracting rights. Then, the switch flipped and now it's all the contracting stuff that's holding up [an agreement]."
His perspective on the NHL's approach to the talks might be part of the reason Orpik isn't interested in predicting when the lockout will end.
"Trying to draw some time of conclusion as to when it's going to be over," he said, "I think you drive yourself crazy."
NOTES -- Evgeni Malkin is the early leader in the balloting for Kontinental Hockey League all-stars, with 14,187 votes. He is followed by Alex Ovechkin (11,116); Ilya Kovalchuk (10,359), Pavel Datsyuk (9,356) and Semyon Varlamov (8,063). The KHL All-Star Game weekend is Jan. 12-13 in Chelyabinsk.
First Published December 11, 2012 12:00 am