SAN JOSE The countdown is on, as NHL Lockout 2012 approaches, but the majority of the San Jose Sharks are still enjoying their ice time, workout room and locker room as they prepare for a season that will almost certainly be delayed.
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Theres a good chance, though, that the players who gathered on Thursday at Sharks Ice for another captains skate will be lacing up their skates in rinks in various corners of the world if the work stoppage drags on. The lockout begins Saturday at 9:00 p.m. PST if no deal is reached.
If the owners say they cant play here, there are more than a few options abroad.
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You want to play games. You train all summer, and thats what you work for, said defenseman Justin Braun, who inked a three-year contract extension in the offseason and admitted that Europe could be an option. You dont want to just keep training. Not that you slack on it, but it just gets old, and you might not have that drive as much. Games really keep you fresh and get you ready for when the season starts here.
TJ Galiardi said: I think everyone obviously wants to play here, but if thats not an option, youve got to look somewhere else. Youve got to stay sharp, because when it eventually comes back, you dont want to be sloppy and a step behind.
It was evident on Thursday morning that some players are remaining more hopeful than others that an 11th-hour deal will be struck, although press conferences from union head Donald Fehr and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman only seemed to establish how entrenched each side is in terms of its respective position. In other words, the sides arent close.
Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, for example, said he hasnt even thought about playing somewhere else yet this fall.
My only thought is to play this year in the NHL, said the 25-year-old. Hopefully we can. If we dont, Ill have to think about it after.
Finlands Antti Niemi and Czech native Marty Havlat have also not given Europe a whole lot of thought, although Havlat said he could likely play for his hometown team of HC Sparta Praha, where he spent the previous lockout in 2004-05.
Well see whats going to happen Saturday, and well go from there, Havlat said.
A report surfaced last week that several European teams have expressed interest in Sharks sniper Logan Couture, who tied for the team lead with 31 goals last season. At just 23 years old and coming off of summer shoulder surgery, Couture seems like the perfect candidate to begin the season overseas if the NHL season is delayed.
Yeah, I think so, if its a long time, Couture said, when asked if hes considering it. Everyone wants to play. Wed have to look at other options if it goes for awhile, so well see when the time comes. We dont know how long or even if its going to happen right now.
Still, Couture said: We want to play in the NHL, this is the best league in the world.
Older players like Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle went through this circus once already. Thornton spent the last NHL season of 2004-05 in Switzerland, where he eventually met his wife and still maintains a residence, while Boyle suited up for a Swedish team.
Last month, Thornton denied a report out of Switzerland (through his agent and brother, John) that he had already made plans to start the season there in the event of a lockout. I asked Joe again today if he had given a return to HC Davos any more thought, now that another lockout is a near certainty.
Not really, he said. Once the owners say hey, youre locked out, Ill probably look at it a lot harder. Until the 15th, Im here and ready to play and thinking about this upcoming season. I havent really thought about going anywhere, and I hope I dont have to. Hopefully they get it figured out."
When that lockout comes, Ill have to think about doing something, yeah.
Boyle wont be going anywhere this time around, opting to stay local and close to his two daughters and wait it out, but he encourages the younger players on the team to explore their options.
Im glad I went. It was a good experience, Boyle said. For the guys that havent gone its certainly its definitely a change. Its a different lifestyle. But, you only live once, so its something to experience.