Saturday, September 15, 2012

NHL Lockout Nearly Official; No CBA Talks Scheduled For Saturday

The NHL is headed to a lockout. Any optimism we got when both sides reopened negotiations last Friday is dead, and at midnight tonight players will be locked out by the owners. The NHL owners and NHLPA have no meetings scheduled for today, meaning there will be no further attempts to reach a deal before players are locked out by owners at midnight. This really shouldn't surprise anybody at this point, but that doesn't make any of this suck any less for hockey fans all over the world.

Teams have already started making contingency plans by assigning players who are still eligible to their AHL affiliates so that they can play until the NHL season begins. Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes, for instance, was optioned to their AHL team specifically for that reason. The Rangers announced that they have assigned eight players to the Connecticut Whale, although all of them (Forwards Kris Newbury, Chad Kolarik, Michael Haley, Tommy Grant and Brandon Segal and defensemen Sean Collins, Logan Pyett, and Mike Vernace) are veteran AHL guys who had virtually no shot of landing a roster spot with the big club anyway. There have been whispers over the past week that the Rangers would send Chris Kreider down to the Whale, but nothing has been officially announced by the team yet.

As far as what the rest of the team has planned, Ryan Callahan and Brad Richards told Larry Brooks of The New York Post that the players have already begun looking to rent ice rinks in the New York area so that the team can still do conditioning drills and skate together as a team. John Tortorella has reportedly been in touch with Richards, Callahan and Henrik Lundqvist about keeping the team together and remaining conditioned. It's worth noting that as of right now no players on the Rangers have agreed to play overseas in Europe like other NHL players have. The Rangers obviously wouldn't admit to this, but it seems like the plan is for the team to stick together for now while they wait and hope that a new CBA is agreed upon fairly quickly. If weeks and months begin to go by with no progress towards a new deal I wouldn't be surprised if players begin to explore options playing in Europe. Lundqvist, for instance, has already indicated that he would likely go back to Sweden to play if the lockout drags on. Nevertheless, it's still great to see this team sticking together and shows the comradery of these guys for not wanting to immediately go their separate ways when the lockout begins.

Where things go from here is anybody's guess. The fact that both sides are still reportedly $1 billion apart in negotiations would seem to indicate that at the very least the lockout will drag on for a few weeks. I also think the fact that the NHL and NHLPA didn't even bother to meet today seems to indicate that both sides are still so far apart that there's no way they could settle everything in just one day. Gary Bettman's stubborn, two-faced approach has been the most aggravating part of all of this to me, personally. One day he gives the NHLPA a "take it or leave it" offer in an almost threateningly manner, and the next he's talking about how nobody wants to see hockey more than him. I'll have more on my disgust with Bettman and the owners in the next few days, though.

Oh, and just in case you wanted some more bad news on top of all this, there is virtually "no chance" restricted free agent Michael Del Zotto agrees to a new contract with the Rangers before the lockout begins at midnight tonight, according to both Bob McKenzie of TSN and Katie Strang of ESPN. All this really means is that whenever the season resumes and a new CBA is agreed to Glen Sather will immediately have to work on getting Del Zotto signed before the start of the season. Fantastic.