Will NHL players be in game shape?

Will NHL players be in game shape?
December 31, 2012, 1:00 pm
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Gary Bettman with an update on the lockout

In a matter of weeks -- perhaps a matter of days – the NHL is likely to come to an agreement with its players on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and rush into an abbreviated season with a one-week training camp.

Whether that training camp begins as early as next week or on the last possible day set by the NHL [Jan. 12], it will be quickly determined who worked hard during the lockout and who slacked off.

 “I know that not all the guys are skating,” said Wendy Marco, a power skating coach who has spent the past several weeks working with Capitals defenseman John Carlson, center Jay Beagle, left wing Jason Chimera and former Capitals center Jeff Halpern, now with the New York Rangers.

“You wait, because if they do have a season, I bet you will see the guys who just sat on their butts and didn’t do a whole lot during the lockout. And you’ll see the guys who worked out hard.”

Marco can vouch for her students. She said she has seen remarkable improvements in the skating techniques of Beagle and Chimera and said fans may be amazed to see the strides Beagle has made since breaking his foot at the end of last season.

“I’ve only been working with them for a few weeks and I don’t want to make big changes because there’s always that chaos stage where it feels uncomfortable before it becomes natural,” Marco said. “But Jay made some big changes and he looks real comfortable doing it.

“I think it’s commendable that those guys have not let [the lockout] get them down and instead used it as an opportunity because some guys won’t be ready.”

And you can bet new Capitals coach Adam Oates will notice.

Since the start of the lockout on Sept. 15, many of the Capitals have slowly migrated to the all corners of the world. Beagle, Carlson, Chimera and Mike Green have spent most of the past four months skating two or three times a week at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

Chimera spent two weeks playing in the CzechRepublic before returning to his family in Alexandria. Center Mike Ribeiro has also remained in the area and has been skating occasionally with his sons’ youth hockey teams.

Other than that, most of the Caps have tried to keep in shape far away from D.C.

Karl Alzner has been working out with more than a dozen NHLers, including teammate Jeff Schultz, in Calgary. Matt Hendricks, who last week returned from a USO Holiday Tour in Afghanistan, has been skating in Minnesota, along with newly signed defenseman Jack Hillen.

Troy Brouwer has been working out with former teammates in Chicago, while Joel Ward and Wojtek Wolski, who spent two months playing in Poland, are now working out in Toronto with several members of the Maple Leafs.

Defenseman John Erskine has been skating near his home in Kingston, Ontario, while defenseman Roman Hamrlik has remained home in his native Czech Republic.

Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have spent most of the past two months playing together in the KHL, although Backstrom has missed the past two games for Moscow Dynamo with a neck injury.

Other Caps playing overseas have included Michal Neuvirth in the Czech League, Marcus Johansson in Sweden, Mathieu Perreault in Finland and Brooks Laich in Switzerland. Laich spent the holidays with his family in Saskatchewan and is waiting on the NHL negotiations to determine whether he returns to Switzerland.

Newly signed forward Joey Crabb has played professionally in Alaska, while goaltender Braden Holtby and defenseman Dmitry Orlov have spent the entire season with the AHL Hershey Bears.

So, assuming a labor settlement is reached, which Caps do you think will get off to the fastest start? And who will lag behind?  Join the conversation below: