Coach Marla is one tough cookie.

That's what 40 locked-out NHLers discovered Tuesday morning at the St. Louis Park Rec Center. The no-nonsense, red-headed figure-skating instructor marched straight out to center-ice during a scrimmage and kicked the players off.

"It was impressive," locked-out Wild veteran Matt Cullen said, laughing. "That's seems to be the general attitude in figure skating these days," locked-out Wild bruiser Matt Kassian said jokingly. "It's very much about control and power, and she definitely had both of those going for her. She was serious." The NHLers, who rent ice four times a week, were scrimmaging on one sheet. Today's large group included off the top of my head Cullen, Kassian Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Cal Clutterbuck, Darroll Powe, Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk, Nate Prosser, Stephane Veilleux, Paul Martin, Keith Ballard, Blake Wheeler, Ryan Carter, Jack Hillen, Andrew Alberts, Nate Thompson, Kyle Okposo and many others. When the ice got chewed up, the players stepped off and walked to the next sheet over to continue. That's when Coach Marla "waltzed straight out to the middle of the ice and told us all to get off," Falk, the locked-out Wild defenseman, said, laughing. "We have a tough enough time getting on the ice as it is, let alone having a figure skater kick us off." You see, Coach Marla apparently reserved one of the sheets between 11:30-12 in order to give a private lesson to 8-year-old, Sophie Ford.

Agent Chris McAlpine, a former NHL defenseman, tried to tell Coach Marla that she actually reserved the next sheet over. Coach Marla wasn't hearing it, so McAlpine cowered, I mean, relented. "It's tough to speak back to a lady, so McAlpine was like, 'OK, we'll get off and go back to the other sheet,'" said Prosser, the locked-out Wild defenseman. So one-by-one, the out-of-work, amused NHL players marched back to the other rink with smiles on their faces. And little Sophie Ford tip-toed onto the rink for her half-hour lesson with Courageous Coach Marla. "That's just the reality right now. We were kicked off the ice by a figure skater," Prosser said, kiddingly. "It's just the way it is right now. It gets hard, but at the same time, it's our job. Each and every day, you need to go train and skate and stay in shape and eat well and sleep well. Camp can start up at any moment, so you've got to be ready. You never know when it could happen." ---------- The NHL and NHLPA have not negotiated formally since Sept. 12 – three days before the players were locked out at 11 p.m. CT Sept. 15. That's changing. The two sides will meet Friday in New York on non-core economic issues, so … there's zero reason for optimism and at a juncture in the very near future, the rest of the preseason will be canceled and the start of the regular season will be in grave danger. The NHL has said there's no reason to talk economics until the NHLPA budges from its Aug. 14 proposal. The NHLPA has made clear immediate paycuts are a non-starter, something the NHL hasn't budged from. Players have told me informally that the way to bridge this gap is for the owners to fulfill the contracts with no paycuts and then slowly reduce the share over time to 50-50. We will see if it ever gets to that point, and if it does, how much damage has been done to the sport to eventually get to that point. NHLPA Divisional rep Joe Reekie, the former longtime NHL defenseman who mostly played with Washington, will be in town tomorrow night to have dinner in Edina with the locked-out, Minnesota-based NHLers. Players say they expect an update from Reekie and maybe some instruction as to what they should do next. "Guys are itching to know a lot," Falk said. "Maybe we'll learn some guidelines or a best date scenario as to when things will resume. Maybe that'll set the bells off for more guys to take off for Europe." Jared Spurgeon has already signed with and left for a team in Switzerland. Prosser does have an option to play in Europe, but his wife gave birth to their first child Aug. 1, so he's hesitant to move his family. Jordan Leopold could be close to signing overseas, while Ryan McDonagh just turned down a real good offer. Falk, and many NHLers who aren't as established as the Evgeni Malkins of the world, are having trouble landing a job in Europe. Falk said he's open to offers. Backstrom had a job lined up with Minsk in Belarus, but an ankle injury has precluded him from signing. Even though Backstrom continues to skate every day, the Minsk job was taken today by his good buddy, Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne – Backstrom's former backup with Karpat Oulu. The Minsk team's goalie coach is Oulu's former coach. And again, Backstrom is fine though, so don't worry that his ankle is a major issue. He again scrimmaged today. In other Wild news, 2012 first-round Matt Dumba has been suspended for two games for a check to the head last weekend, and the Wild will stream this weekend's Aeros scrimmages on Remember, Houston's camp opens Friday. Saturday's scrimmage is at 11 a.m. and Sunday's is at 10 a.m. Both are free and open to everybody, and all the top signed prospects will be there, except of course Dumba, who is not Houston eligible. The Aeros will then head to Houston to complete camp there.