Like most professional athletes, hockey players are creatures of habit.
They take off their three or four weeks in early summer, begin workouts in mid-July, ramp it up in August and hit the ice full bore in September.
But without a team or a season to play for this year, a handful of Capitals have been skating on their own at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. On Friday, instead of a morning skate in preparation for tonight’s season opener against the New Jersey Devils, five Capitals and one former Capital gathered for a morning practice.
“When they canceled games through October 24th we knew we’d be missing the home opener,” Caps center Jay Beagle said. “But it’s still sad knowing we could have been playing tonight.
“It’s weird even to think about. It’s starting to sink in when we start missing actual games.”
Beagle spent a little more than an hour scrimmaging with teammates Nicklas Backstrom, Jason Chimera, Matt Hendricks and John Carlson, along with Rangers center Jeff Halpern, as the NHL lockout extended to Day 27.
“It would have been fun to play tonight,” Backstrom said. “It is what it is. We got a good skate instead.”
While two days of contract negotiations in New York yielded no proposals and only limited progress, the Capitals say they believe a deal will be struck to save an abbreviated season.
“Oh, yeah, I think so,” Beagle said. “You have to stay optimistic. As a player you can’t think you’re going to miss a whole season. All of a sudden your workouts and your skates would be getting sloppy and then if the season does happen you’re behind the 8-ball. Personally, I’ve been optimistic the whole time. That’s why I’m here.”
With just a handful of players, the Capitals’ daily workouts have essentially consisted of 2-on-1 drills, 3-on-3 scrums out of the corners and hard skates after practice.
Hendricks said it’s the best players can do while they await word on developments between the owners and players as they try to decide how to split $3.3 billion in annual revenue.
“We’re checking our phones every day to see if there’s progress,” Hendricks said. “For the most part we’re waiting it out, holding strong as a union and hoping the sides will come to terms.”
Hendricks said players are updated two or three times a week by the NHL Players’ Association, either by email alerts or letters from executive director Donald Fehr.
“We give him all the trust in the world,” he said. “His job is to come up with a game plan and that’s what he’s doing. He comes to us, we talk about it and for the most part it’s in the hands of the negotiating committee.”
Hendricks said that as much as it hurts the players not to be suiting up tonight, he’s more concerned about the people that work in and around Verizon Center who are bring impacted by the work stoppage.
“Those people are counting on us to make a living,” he said. “We all just want it to end.”