Under normal circumstances -- "normal" being any September in which the NHL wasn't threatened by a lockout -- Travis Hamonic would soon be readying to load up all his stuff for the 2,700-kilometre trek from Winnipeg to Long Island, N.Y.
"I'm a big fan of driving," said Hamonic, the Winnipeg-born product of the New York Islanders. "Usually, I pack up my truck and drive down. Training camp is scheduled to open on the 21st, but it's such a long drive for me I made the decision I'm not going to drive down until I know what's going on with the season. If I'm down there before the 15th and something does happen that means we don't start on time and it's a long drive back. I'm just going to wait it out here."
He's not alone on that count. NHL players across the globe are anxiously keeping an eye on New York these days and praying a resolution can be reached between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association on a new collective bargaining agreement. The current deal expires on Sept. 15 and, with so many issues yet to be resolved, the consensus is the players will be locked out by midnight next Saturday.
And so, just like every other September, players are gathering together wherever they can get ice time to get in a good competitive skate. Friday morning at MTS Iceplex Hamonic was joined by, among others, Alex Burmistrov, Toby Enstrom and Mark Stuart of the Winnipeg Jets, Jet prospects Ivan Telegin and Jason Gregoire, Kevin Clark, who spent last year in St. John's, Travis Zajac of the New Jersey Devils, Justin Falk of the Minnesota Wild, Ryan Reaves of the St. Louis Blues and free agent Eric Fehr.
"We all want to play," said Stuart. "It's definitely there, that cloud. It's there all the time and you're thinking about it and it's worrisome. But you just have to prepare as if you're starting on time just like any other season. Sometimes that's easier said than done, but we've got some good skates going on here."
Meanwhile, the two sides gathered again in New York on Friday for informal negotiations at NHL headquarters. NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and his brother Steve sat down with commissioner Gary Bettman and his deputy, Bill Daly, following a week of very little communication. Included in those discussions were Jet player rep Ron Hainsey along with Zenon Konoka of Minnesota and Buffalo's Robyn Regher.
"(We're) trying to find a way to bridge the gap," Donald Fehr told reporters. "That's always the intent."
It's possible the two sides, which met for two hours on Friday, could get together again today.
"We'd like to make a deal," said Bettman. "There is an ebb and flow to negotiations. It's always good to have dialogue."
The key issue remains how the two sides will split hockey-related revenue. The latest NHL proposal would see the players' share shrink from 57 to 46 per cent.
Clearly, both sides want to avoid another labour dispute, as the NHL has suffered through three pervious since 1992 -- a strike that year forced 30 games to be rescheduled, a lockout in 1994-95 reduced the season to 48 games and the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 campaign was due to another lockout.
"You're kind of left in limbo right now," said Zajac, the Devils' star, after a spirited on-ice session Friday. "For myself and the other guys training here, we're just waiting it out to see what's going to happen.
"Like a lot of guys have said, you've got to explore those other options if we're locked out. For myself, I missed almost all last year with an injury, so to sit out another year I don't think would be the best for me. I know I'll definitely be exploring some other options the longer this goes.
"We want to be on the ice," Zajac added. "We want to be playing every game. That's what we work for in the off-season, during the season. It's what we get paid to do. That's where we want to be."
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