DeCock: For lockout veterans, not dèjà vu but disbelief

ldecock@newsobserver.comSeptember 17, 2012 

Matt Cullen still thinks there’s time to save the NHL season. Then again, the former Carolina Hurricanes forward never thought it would get this far.

For the NHL players who went through the last lockout, the mere idea that another has descended upon the league is difficult to fathom. They sacrificed an entire year of their salaries in a fight they would eventually lose, but with the understanding that their capitulation would fix what was wrong with the game.

And now?

“Even last year, going through the season, I didn’t think we’d be in this position again,” Cullen said Sunday from Minnesota, where he plays for the Wild. “The shape the game is in right now, everything is going so well. There’s so much momentum, with the game growing every year. Everybody’s making money. The game is in a great place right now.

“If you told me six months ago the owners would do another lockout, I never would have believed it. It’s frustrating being a part of it again. It feels like something you shouldn’t have to go through twice in your career.”

It’s particularly frustrating for some of Cullen’s former teammates. With the offseason additions the Hurricanes made, the mood at the informal practices the players have held for the past few weeks has been ebullient. At least, it was before the end of last week, when the rapidly approaching lockout took some steam out of the proceedings.

“It’s not even that I feel bad for us,” said Hurricanes defenseman Joe Corvo, who returned to the team as a free agent in July. “I feel bad for fans and all the people depending on the money they make at the games and stuff like that. How do you think they feel?”

Corvo signed his contract expecting to play under it. At the moment, that remains in doubt. With a one-year contract, he can’t wait too long to put on a Hurricanes uniform again.

“It’s just frustrating, because our team is so good,” Corvo said. “Coming back here, with Jordan Staal and everything, we have such a good chance to do something, go to the playoffs and stuff.”

There are similar hopes in Minnesota, where the Wild made one of the biggest free-agent splashes in NHL history, signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in July. That makes Cullen, at 35, one of the elder statesmen on a very young Wild team, but even he doesn’t have a ton of advice for the players going through it for the first time.

“I just didn’t expect that we’d be locked out,” Cullen said. “We haven’t missed any games yet, so I’m still optimistic it’s going to happen. … The last one was totally black and white. It’s not like that this time. I still believe we can get it done.”

As history repeats itself, it leaves Cullen sharing the same feeling as many of the other players who have been through this before: not déjà vu, but disbelief.

“Last time, I was absolutely positive it was going to be a lockout,” Corvo said. “This time, it was a different feeling. I felt like both sides wanted to keep the game going, keep playing. I figured something would come out if it came down to the last minute like it has.

“I would never have thought it would come to this again after the first time I went through it. I thought everyone would learn from everything that happened and go from there. This just seems like a step back.”

DeCock: luke.decock@newsobserver.com, 919-829-8947 Twitter: @LukeDeCock,

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