League, NHLPA head to court
As the lockout drags into what should have been the heart of the 2012-13 season, players everywhere are doing their best to stay in shape in hopes of a quick return to NHL action. For a few that's meant regular games on irregular rinks abroad. But for many, it's meant organizing skates and workouts with nearby players. And for the three Capitals who remain in the D.C. area, Jay Beagle, John Carlson and Jason Chimera, that means scraping together whoever they can to be able to run their drills.
"There's not many guys who are in town so it's kind of hard to get a good skate together," said Chimera. "But we've got four or five guys and we've got some goalies now so we've been doing pretty good for the limited number of guys we have. I know some have 15 guys around and some have five guys around their area so I think you just need to mentally keep it in."
Much like NHLers spread out across North America, the Capitals practicing at Kettler have developed new routines similar to a summer training schedule, only with no end in sight. They skate together, workout with trainers at a nearby Gold's Gym and wonder when and if they'll return to work this season. As Chimera explains, keeping physically sharp isn't the toughest part of staying prepared through the lockout.
"Mentally is the biggest thing. I know it's tough with three guys and a lot of guys are playing overseas. Everybody has their different things going on and it's tough when you've got family. Insurance is a big thing. A lot of guys don't want to get hurt and then have [the season] start when they're hurt."
As missed paychecks, the risk of injury and the emotional roller coaster of failed negotiations weigh on their minds, players fight to stay focused.
"It's tough because you hope that something gets done in the next week or two or you hear something that's positive so it's tough mentally. Physically though that's our job. I have to be ready if the season starts because we'll have a week maybe of like a mini training camp and then you're into it. You can't afford to take time off and kind of sit back," Beagle said back in early October.
Since then, talks have stalled, a deal has been rumored as close only to be yanked off the table hours later, federal mediation hasn't helped, law suits have been filed and wave after wave of games and marquee events have gotten the ax. Though the remaining Caps have adjusted their workouts based on the ups and downs of CBA negotiations, they've never given up hope for a season.
"We were skating three days a week because talks weren't going very well and things weren't that close and we didn't want to burn out," Beagle explained on Friday. "But now things have started to pick up again and we feel like something could get done so we started skating four or five times a week again.
"You can't afford to think that you're going to lose a whole season because then all of a sudden your workouts get sloppy and you kind of almost stop caring. You can't afford to do that. The only thing that keeps you going, working hard and your tempo up is thinking that something's going to get resolved, hopefully sooner rather than later."
In addition to occasional appearances by former Capital Jeff Halpern, the Capitals trio have recruited a few local players to lift their practice numbers, and the recent addition of a pair of Northern Virginia Community College goalies has also helped to boost their spirits.
"It's huge," said Carlson of his new training partners. "It's pretty nice to have some goalies. You know if you don't have a goalie it's not really fun to do anything."
"Shooting against an empty net is depressing," added Beagle. "It really is. It's not fun. So when they came out it helped get the spirits up and make the drills a little bit more fun."
Despite a lack of actual game play, the trio feels confident they'll be ready to go once a deal is finally agreed upon. Part of that confidence comes from Chimera's brief foray in international hockey this fall.
"When Chimmer went overseas to play he said he jumped right in and he said he felt good. When a guys goes over and plays 20 minutes in a game and says he felt fine you know that means we're doing something right, that we're not too far behind," said Beagle.
"I think everyone is pretty much in the same boat," said Carlson. "It's just like when you come into training camp: it doesn't really matter how hard you've trained in the summer, you need to get around your full team and get used to them to be able to play good hockey. I think what's most important at this point is meshing as a team together in a quick period of time."