Threat of lockout casts dark shadow over NHL

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 3, 2012 - 1:01 AM

Wild coaches and players might be preparing for business as usual, but they know that Sept. 15 could become an infamous date.

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Wild forward Dany Heatley played in Switzerland during the 2004-05 lockout and would consider returning to Europe if locked out.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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Everybody's operating as if it is business as usual.

Late last week, the NHL released the national television schedule for the upcoming season just as individual teams released their local TV schedules.

Here in Minnesota, coach Mike Yeo and his staff were holed up at Xcel Energy Center preparing for the Wild's training camp, while dozens of NHLers skated around the Twin Cities in preparation as well.

One small problem: The chance that training camps actually open across the NHL as scheduled is growing less likely by the day.

Labor negotiations between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association ended abruptly Friday. No future talks have been scheduled, and with the collective bargaining agreement set to expire in 12 days, a second lockout in eight years appears inevitable.

"I'm doing my best to just put all that stuff aside," Yeo said. "If they get things worked out and we have training camp, I don't want to be caught saying, 'Oh boy, I thought there was going to be a lockout.'

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit worried. With the expectations that we have, with the excitement that we have coming out of this summer [in which the Wild signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter] ... it would definitely be disappointing."

Eight years ago, when an entire season was lost as the NHL pursued and eventually got its "cost certainty" by way of the salary cap, more than a third of NHL players headed to Europe to play.

In the past few weeks, players have become vocal about their willingness to do so again if a lockout appears lengthy.

"I haven't gone down that path because I'm still trying to assume that everything will be OK and we can go about business as usual," Parise said. "But I'm sure we'll get an idea in the next week or so what it's going to be looking like and maybe I'll get on the phone with the agent and see what's out there."

Most European leagues allow between two and seven North American imports. Eight years ago, several leagues changed to accommodate the influx of NHLers. So far, they haven't indicated they are willing to do so again, meaning it might be tougher for NHLers to find work.

"I can't see myself going anywhere," said Vancouver Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard, a former Gopher. "I can see a Russian kid going back to Russia or a Swedish player staying at home. But for us to uproot our families for one, two months makes little sense to me."

Players who do play elsewhere would have to seek their own disability insurance. That's a must, proven by the Wild's Dany Heatley, who suffered a serious eye injury while playing in Switzerland during the 2004-05 lockout.

Heatley, then a member of the Atlanta Thrashers, was hit with a puck, broke his orbital bone and suffered temporary blindness. Today, his vision is restored, but his left eye is permanently dilated.

"It was definitely a scary time," Heatley said Sunday.

Heatley had surgery and spent two months recovering before playing the final six weeks for Kazan in Russia. If there's another long lockout, Heatley said, "I wouldn't be hesitant at all" to play overseas again.

"You can't say my injury happened just because of the lockout," Heatley said. "It can happen any time and any place you play the game. It's tough to tell a guy not to play. Guys want to play. But we want to get it settled and we want to play here before we look at that."

If there's a lockout, the American Hockey League will operate and benefit from a flood of prospects that normally might have a chance at making the NHL.

In the event of a work stoppage, the Wild's affiliate, the Houston Aeros, would employ first-round draft picks Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Zack Phillips and second-round picks Marco Scandella, Brett Bulmer, Johan Larsson and Jason Zucker.

The Wild hasn't decided yet whether 2011 first-round pick Jonas Brodin, 19, would play in Houston or return to his Swedish club. The Wild also could assign Jared Spurgeon to Houston because he still is on his entry-level contract, but because the defenseman spent all of last season with Minnesota, the Wild might let him choose if he wants to play there.

Any player with a two-way contract could be sent to the minors, but if that player requires waivers, a team would risk losing him. All minor league assignments would have to occur before the CBA expires Sept. 15, so if no deal is imminent, there will be a flurry of NHL transactions Sept. 14.

"A lockout never helps any league, and this league is really in a good spot right now," Heatley said. "We've really grown the game over the past six years. ... It would be a shame to lock out at this time."

  • related content

  • Chart: Key Wild dates

    Sunday September 2, 2012

    Sept. 15: Start of an NHL lockout if no new collective bargaining agreement has been reached.

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Cleveland - WP: C. Allen 4 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: G. Holland 3
Baltimore - LP: W. Chen 0 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Pineda 5
Kansas City - WP: D. Duffy 2 FINAL
Cleveland - LP: C. Carrasco 0
Seattle - LP: J. Paxton 4 FINAL
Toronto - WP: J. Happ 14
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Bassitt 2 FINAL
Detroit - LP: K. Lobstein 0
Pittsburgh - WP: F. Liriano 1 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: A. Harang 0
Houston - LP: N. Tropeano 3 FINAL
Texas - WP: D. Holland 4
St. Louis - WP: A. Wainwright 8 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - LP: T. Wood 0
Arizona - WP: J. Collmenter 6 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: R. Nolasco 2
LA Angels - LP: C. Wilson 4 FINAL
Oakland - WP: J. Samardzija 8
San Francisco - WP: S. Casilla 5 FINAL
Los Angeles - LP: K. Correia 2
Colorado - LP: T. Matzek 0 FINAL
San Diego - WP: E. Stults 1
Chicago 27 FINAL
NY Jets 19
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Buffalo 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Green Bay 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Tennessee 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Carolina 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Detroit 9/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
Tampa Bay 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Miami 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Oakland
Jacksonville 9/28/14 3:05 PM
San Diego
Atlanta 9/28/14 3:25 PM
Minnesota
Philadelphia 9/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
New Orleans 9/28/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
Ottawa 2 FINAL
NY Islanders 3
Ottawa 5:00 PM
NY Islanders
New Jersey 5 FINAL
NY Rangers 4
Detroit 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Toronto 3 FINAL
Philadelphia 2
Washington 4 FINAL
Philadelphia 5
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Winnipeg 2
St. Louis 3 FINAL
Dallas 4
Anaheim 5 FINAL
Colorado 2
Colorado 0 FINAL
Anaheim 4
Los Angeles 4 FINAL
Arizona 5
Arizona 3 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
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(24) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(11) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
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Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
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Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
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Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
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Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
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Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
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Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
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Virginia Tech
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Indiana
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Pittsburgh
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Massachusetts
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(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
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Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
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Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
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Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
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Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
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UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
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