"I've never had a stress-free Christmas like this where I've had so much time to get things done," laughs Capitals forward Jay Beagle after a player-organized skate at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
The players who remain in town must rent ice-time in their former practice home. They use public locker rooms, since their former digs are locked up, and wear black and white NHLPA-branded uniforms -a stark contrast to their usual holiday-colored red, green and white Capitals practice sweaters.
In the bleachers, typically packed with fans on a Friday morning in December, sits one lone diehard.
"He's been our biggest fan," Beagle tells me. "It started out we had like three or four fans that were coming out but now we're down to one. I mean, it's to be expected."
An expected casualty of an unexpected lockout that for the third time in 18 years, puts a damper on yet another holiday season. And though negotiations have yet to yield a settlement, Beagle and teammate John Carlson try to find the silver lining.
"It's tough some days," admits Carlson. "But you know, when I was home for Thanksgiving it was good."
For the first time in their professional careers, these NHLers have the ability to travel wherever they want to celebrate the holidays with family and friends. It's a freedom that brings with it some challenges familiar to your average fan.
"It's made it really tough because our families want us to come home so we're trying to figure out what to do," says Beagle. "It'd be nice to go home just because we haven't been home for Christmas for about eight years."
Travel and family stress aside, this holiday this season has been a lot less hectic for players with wide-open afternoon schedules.
"I've had time to get all my shopping done, except for my wife," laughs Beagle, who jokes that he was hoping for a paycheck. "But I got everyone else done really fast and sent off on time. I was like, 'this is easy!', but it's definitely different not playing and having basically no schedule."
As Beagle contemplates what to get his wife for Christmas, it's unlikely that she -or any other friend or family member of a player- will be getting a personalized jersey this season.
It's a sentiment that appears prominent among hockey fans as well. With games canceled through Dec. 30, most have struck Capitals tickets from their wish lists, though $100+ ticket prices for upcoming marquee matchups against the Penguins, Blackhawks and Maple Leafs show that hockey fans still have hope for a New Years resolution.