Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Instead of opening season, uncertainlty remains in NHL

Lockout moves into fourth week, talks to resume
Wednesday; D'Agostini latest Blue to sign in Europe

CHESTERFIELD -- Instead of practicing the final few days before departing to Denver for the season-opener Thursday, T.J. Oshie and a few handful of teammates and NHL players were once again left to fend for themselves.

Despite being on its own, the National Hockey League Players Association continues its unified stance against the owners. And because it is entrenched in that unified stance, instead of talking about opening night taking place Thursday for the Blues in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche, the talk is still surrounding the uncertainty of an NHL season and the lockout that has it on hold.
(Photo by Mark Buckner/St. Louis Blues)
Instead of building being filled to capacity, NHL arenas will sit empty, like
Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The NHL season was to open Thursday but
will not because of a second lockout in eight years.

Oshie, David Backes, Andy McDonald, Barret Jackman, Kevin Shattenkirk, Matt D'Agostini, Alex Pietrangelo, Brian Elliott, Jamie Langenbrunner and Scott Nichol are still skating together at the Hardees IcePlex, along with St. Louis natives Ben Bishop (Ottawa), Chris Butler (Calgary) and Cam Janssen (New Jersey). It's their way of staying up to par when/if the NHL and NHLPA consummate a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and the season can be salvaged.

"I think reality kind of set in after the New York meetings I went to (recently)," Oshie said Tuesday. "After that, I kind of realized what we're dealing with and what's going on.

"It sucks, but we want to play under a fair deal that's fair for both sides. We're just waiting and hopefully we don't lose too much of the season."

Until then, former Blues defenseman Jeff Brown and Jamie Rivers are running the workouts and the players continue their unified stance.

"We're unified just as much as (the owners) are," said D'Agostini, who left for Germany Tuesday night after signing a contract to play with SC Reissersee of 2-Bundesliga. "That's why it's not moving anywhere now. It's good for us. We're not giving into the outrageous demands. We're staying firm.

"If they see more and more of us taking off for Europe, I think the owners will start panicking, too, because I'm sure they don't want to lose a full season just as much as we don't either. We'll see how it all unfolds."

Despite the ongoing tug of war between the owners and players, hockey fans are suffering most and will be heard from even more when the realization finally hits that a puck won't drop Thursday. The Blues, Avalanche, Boston, Philadelphia, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver were all set to unveil the 2012-13 season. The league has already canceled games from Oct. 11-24, 82 games in all. It will slice more games off the schedule as time marches on without an agreement.

"As much as (fans) enjoy watching hockey, as much as they enjoy coming to games and rooting on their hometown teams, we love playing hockey that much more," Oshie said. "We want to get out there. We just feel that we can't do that and we won't do that until there's something fair on the table for both sides."

As for D'Agostini, he joins Alex Steen and Patrik Berglund (Sweden), Chris Stewart (Germany), Vladimir Sobotka and Roman Polak (Czech Republic) and Vladimir Tarasenko (Russia) as Blues playing overseas. Kris Russell signed to play in Finland but has since returned after suffering a lower-body injury, believed to be a knee. But D'Agostini feels like this could be a consistent trend in the coming weeks for the players, particularly if the ones still here don't feel like there's traction being made with the CBA.

"I think people will start signing more and more in the next few weeks," he said. "They realize we might be waiting around for a while.

"I just want to play some games and get back into game shape so when we do settle this, I'll be ready to go. It's a good experience to kind of not jump all over, go to Germany and experience that type of game and play some hockey games. There were other options, but my agent is really close with this team and he's dealt with them before. I'm excited about going there. He told me all about it. It's a nice little town. People will treat me like one of their own."
(Photo by Mark Buckner/St. Louis Blues)
Matt D'Agostini (36) is the latest Blue to jump overseas to play during the
NHL lockout, agreeing to play for SC Reissersee of 2-Bundesliga.

The two sides are expected to meet Wednesday in New York. Non-core economic issues are slated to be topics of discussion. But will it also be the beginning of something meaningful as far as discussions on the core economic issues? Time will tell. But in the meantime, the reality of missing games is already being felt, as the entire preseason was wiped out, and now the regular season will begin to follow suit.

"It's really setting in," D'Agostini said. "... I'd just like to get back into the swing of things, start getting my head focused again, to get back into the routine of playing some games again. Hopefully it will get me turned around.

"I'm not too certain on how long it will last but from what I hear, it sounds like it will (last). It doesn't sound like they're getting anywhere too fast. I don't want to be sitting at home thinking about it anymore."

Added Oshie: "Right now, it seems like the owners are holding strong ... I wasn't around for the last lockout but it sounds like it's going in that direction for them. The differences I hear from players -- especially the older players and veterans -- is that all the players are together this time. We're all under one voice. That obviously has to do with (NHLPA Executive Director) Don Fehr and what he's done. ... He wants to get us the best deal possible that's fair. He keeps reiterating for us to stick together. The boys have been. That's great. I think that's the biggest thing how unified we are as a union.

"All I know is we're sticking together right now. We're holding out for something that's fair."

And fans just keep holding out ... holding out for the game to come back.

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