RALEIGH — Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes is back in town, ready for hockey, eager to get started, liking the new look of the team.
And, like his teammates, hoping for a quick – and equitable – resolution on a new NHL collective bargaining agreement by Saturday.
"Everyone wants to get going as soon as possible," Skinner said Monday after an informal skate at Raleigh Center Ice.
At the same time, Skinner realizes the need for player unity, for standing together behind NHL Players Association executive director Don Fehr during the CBA negotiations. If there’s a lockout, so be it.
"I’ve been to a few (NHLPA) meetings and I know the (player) reps have been talking about how good it is that the players are all participating and showing solidarity," Skinner said. "I think that’s what you need, really. I think we have to keep showing that."
That should be a climatic week in the NHL. The CBA expires Saturday, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said the players will be locked out if there is no new CBA in place.
More than 200 players are heading to New York this week to be updated by Fehr. The NHL board of governors then meets Thursday in Manhattan.
No CBA talks were held Monday, adding to the uneasiness and sense of dread.
"As players, we only want to play, and the owners seem determined to lock us out," Montreal Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges said Monday on an NHLPA media call. "We view Sept. 15 differently. We believe a lockout should be a last resort. The owners are treating it as a preferred option."
Skinner said he may go to New York. Then again, he may stay in Raleigh, working out and skating and hoping for the best.
"It’s not a good situation, sitting and waiting around," he said. "You want to get a deal that’s as fair as you can get, as soon as possible. I think that’s what everyone wants."
After a dreamlike first NHL season in 2010-2011, when he was the Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year, Skinner faced adversity in his second season. A concussion in early December kept the forward out of 16 games, and he struggled to recapture the playing form that made him a 31-goal scorer as a rookie.
Skinner joined Team Canada for the 2012 World Championship after the Canes’ season ended. He had three goals and two assists in the eight games, drawing praise from Canes coach Kirk Muller, who served as an assistant coach for Canada and said Skinner "looked like the old Jeff.”
"I think I had a little more confidence," Skinner said. "Obviously it was tough coming back in the middle of the season. When I got in that tournament I felt a little better on the ice. That’s the only thing I can point to – just the confidence. When you can play with confidence it makes a big difference."
In June, Skinner was watching the NHL Entry Draft on television when he heard Bettman say, "We have a trade ..." Moments later, Skinner learned he had a new teammate: Jordan Staal, who the Pittsburgh Penguins traded to the Canes.
"I was really surprised," he said.
On July 1, the Canes signed defenseman Joe Corvo. Later came the signing of forward Alexander Semin.
"Obviously it was a big offseason for the organization," Skinner said.
Another big step came in August, when Skinner was signed to a six-year contract extension worth $34.35 million. That will keep him in the fold at least through the 2018-2019 season.
"There’s a lot of excitement, not only around the team and organization but in the city there’s a buzz," he said.
Can a lockout be avoided? In Quebec and Alberta provinces, the NHLPA is not certified as a union, which may prevent the Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers from locking out their players.
The NHLPA is hoping for a favorable ruling from Canadian labor boards in Quebec and Alberta. As Gorges said, if the Habs, Flames and Oilers players are allowed to train and prepare for the season, “It might put pressure the other teams, who might say, ‘They’re practicing and getting ready; maybe we should do something.’”