Penguins: It's not a hockey night here, elsewhere in NHL
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The Penguins would have woken up this morning and headed to Consol Energy Center for the hockey ritual known as the morning skate.
If not for the NHL lockout.
After some lunch and a nap, they would have headed back to the arena for their 2012-13 season and home opener, against the New York Islanders.
If not for the lockout.
Instead, they are scattered. A couple are playing overseas. Some are practicing in their hometowns or near their offseason residences. The rest are practicing four days a week at Southpointe.
One of the regulars in that last group had a hard time hiding his disdain for the situation after skating Thursday.
"It's been the owners' intent since day one," winger Matt Cooke said. "They've made the decision to lock us out when that should be a last resort in negotiations."
The NHL and the NHL Players' Association have been talking. They held meetings the past two days in New York. But there has been little, if any, progress on ancillary issues, and none on the major stumbling block of core economics.
"In general, I would say that 'limbo' is a good term," said Penguins forward and union representative Craig Adams, who attended this week's meetings. "My feeling really hasn't changed. Nothing's really changed. We haven't made any progress on the key issues."
There are no talks scheduled for today.
Some teams were scheduled to open the season Thursday night, but, more than a week ago, the NHL canceled the first two weeks of the season -- 82 games that can be made up only if there is a relatively quick settlement and a condensed schedule. That doesn't seem likely when any hopes of progress are consistently dashed.
"I think you just wait for good feedback," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "We all know when everyone's meeting, and we all kind wonder if that's going to be the meeting where there's some headway made, but it hasn't been the case.
"It's too bad. It affects a lot of people besides us, too. That's the reality of it."
Under the collective bargaining agreement that expired Sept. 15 -- which is when the league implemented the lockout -- players got 57 percent of hockey-related revenues. The league's latest proposal called for that to drop to 47 percent. The players have asked for a sliding scale in the 52 percent to 54 percent range. And that's if they can agree on the definition of what those revenues are.
"There's their deal, and then there's our deal," Crosby said. "They want their deal. There's no real meeting anywhere [between]. It seems like they've drawn that line, and whether there's a deadline or they're not going to move until they get that, who knows?"
He was referring to an undercurrent of thought that league owners have secretly decided to put off agreeing on a new CBA until they reach a predetermined deadline, perhaps in mid-November.
"We've heard that," Crosby said. "That's been talked about a lot. I really hope that's not the case. I think everyone hopes they're negotiating in good faith and they're not stalling because they have a certain date in mind. That's not the way to do it."
Things could get uglier before they get brighter, especially if -- as NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr hinted this week -- the players decide they want to try to eliminate the salary cap.
So everyone waits. Instead of an NHL game at Consol Energy Center, the Penguins will have a free charity game at 7 p.m. today pitting Pittsburgh police against Pittsburgh firefighters.
And a handful of Penguins -- there were seven Thursday -- will skate at Southpointe instead of going to a morning skate. The workouts are up-tempo but not exactly a suitable replacement for playing.
"It's not something you want to be doing in October," Crosby said. "You'd rather be starting the season. But it is what it is. You can't really do much but sit and wait."
Although they are creatures of routine, the players aren't picturing what today would have been like -- if not for the lockout.
"You can't even think of that," Cooke said. "It's not in the picture. It's not where we're at. Sitting here thinking about it is not going to do us any good.
"At the end of the day, we hold each other accountable to be ready to play when it's time to play. That's the bottom line."
NOTES --Retired former Penguins winger Mark Recchi joined the skaters at Southpointe for a second time and said he will continue to skate with them when his schedule allows. "It's been since January since I put on the equipment," he said. "I've been trying to get in shape the past month or so. This is nice. It's a little more enjoyable than being in a gym all the time." ... Of one-time linemate Crosby, Recchi said, "Sid looks great. They all look good, really. Sid's a special player. When you get a chance to be out here on the ice and see the stuff he does, it's pretty scary."
First Published October 12, 2012 1:35 am