As the NHL labor talks appear to have slowed down in New York, players such as Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes can only wonder whats next.
Staal would like to believe the league and the NHL Players Association are close to finalizing a new collective bargaining agreement. Hed like to believe the lockout will soon end and the players will soon be back on the ice, ending what he calls a nightmare.
You hope, Staal said Friday. We still dont really know. Its up in the air, I guess. Well see what happens this weekend.
From all accounts, little happened Friday in New York. The two sides met separately with federal mediator Scot L. Beckenbaugh to discuss CBA issues, but there were no joint negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA and it was not clear if CBA sessions would be held Saturday and Sunday.
The league has indicated the CBA will need to be in place by Jan. 11 in time for a 48-game regular-season schedule. Commissioner Gary Bettman has said the season must begin by Jan. 19.
Is Jan. 11 a firm date, or more negotiating rhetoric? Some players are skeptical about the date the 2004-2005 season wasnt canceled until February 2005 in the last labor dispute but no one can say for sure.
Either way were going to find out what the deal is, Staal said. Were at the point in the year where its going to happen or it doesnt.
Staal, the Canes captain, said his immediate plans remain the same: Skate hard and be ready.
And if the season is canceled? Go on another vacation, I guess, he said.
Staal was asked Friday about the potential impact of the lockout on the Hurricanes market. Its January. N.C. State, Duke and North Carolina are starting conference play in the ACC.
Thats stiff competition for a hockey team in a Southern market that hasnt played a game since last April.
Its not good for any market, Staal said of the lockout. But I think theres a base of fans here who love the game, love hockey. For me, personally, I feel bad for them and embarrassed to be part of this whole situation.