BRANDON, Fla. While a new proposal swirls that could break the ice in the NHL lockout, its been business as usual here on the ice at a local skating establishment for a dedicated cadre of Tampa Bay Lightning players.
And for one well-known Bolt veteran who has been through all this before, the only game plan has been to keep training in voluntary morning workout sessions just to be ready for whenever a deal might be struck.
Team captain Vinny Lecavalier remembers all too well the frustration from the lost 2004-05 season, which came on the heels of his greatest career reward: Tampa Bays storybook Stanley Cup championship. The Lightning beat the Calgary Flames in a tough, seven-game series.
Though its been just over a month since the work stoppage began, the same feelings of uncertainty are bubbling back to the surface. The last time around, instead of being able to build on the glow of the franchises greatest moment, Lecavalier wound up playing hockey across the globe in the Russian Superleague.
One thing I know is, when I went to Russia, about five or six times we thought, Okay, were leaving tomorrow, its a done deal, he said. And it wasnt done. The big difference this time around is that we get updates all the time and we know whats going on.
Whats going on now is that players throughout the league wait as their union leadership carefully evaluates Tuesdays offer from commissioner Gary Bettman a proposed 50-50 split for them of hockey-related revenues and a full season that would begin Nov. 2. If accepted, the deal would end the lockout that began Sept. 15 and jettisoned the Oct. 2 start to the 2012-13 campaign. A counter-proposal from the union could come as early as Thursday.
The Lightnings player representative, right wing B.J. Crombeen, went on record Tuesday as saying that many questions remain unanswered even with the 50-50 proposition. And though there is a sense of cautious optimism, NHL Players Association chief Donald Fehr remained non-committal when asked if the proposal represented an improvement over earlier league offers.
In some respects I think it is, he was quoted. In other respects, Im not sure. We have to look at it.
Meanwhile, Lecavalier and a handful of his teammates a half-dozen or so on a recent morning have been showing up at the Ice Sports Forum just outside of Tampa to skate, shoot and wait for word.
The group had been as large as 17 or 18 in recent weeks. But with the season up in the air, some players returned to their homes away from the Tampa Bay area to train on their own. Participation in the voluntary team drills has dwindled to about a half-dozen lately, but the energy level, intensity and sweat hasnt diminished among those who remain.
Lecavalier, like the others, just keep pushing.
You have no choice, really, he said. Its an unfortunate event. But we had a good practice today. And were trying to stay in shape. Its just kind of a waiting game to see whats going to happen.
With more players on hand, obviously more can be accomplished by simulating game situations. But Lecavalier has been pleased with the effort of the smaller turnout.
I think today was one of the good ones usually when you have more guys, the better it is, he said. But no matter what, were still trying to figure out drills so we can stay in shape and try to get better and get more comfortable on the ice. Everybody is pushing. Everybody wants to be ready if this thing gets resolved soon. So whether its a young guy or older guy, nobody wants to be a step behind when it starts again.
Lecavalier has become a Lightning icon, having joined the team in 1998 as a first overall draft pick. The veteran center is a two-time NHL All-Star, has amassed 842 career points and is only two games away from his 1,000th in the NHL. Lightning fans will always remember the integral role he played in the teams Stanley Cup season. He is a face of the franchise, along with teammate Marty St. Louis.
At 32, Lecavalier doesnt relish the possibility of losing part of all of another season.
Ive lost one already, so obviously I dont want to lose another one, he said. You want to play game. You want to stay sharp. I dont feel old, but if you want to get better at something, you have to do it. Its great to practice and to stay in shape. But to play games, you have to compete at the highest level to become better.
Lecavalier and wife Caroline have two young children and are expecting another, so the thought of heading overseas to play as some of his teammates have isnt something he wants to do if he can help it. Honestly, not really right now, he said. I thought about it before the lockout. But Im going to wait and see what happens. Ask me again in two weeks and I might have a different answer. I remember in 04-05, I didnt think Id go anywhere and the lockout kept going and I was like, I want to go play somewhere.
But right now, Im staying here, working out with the guys and staying with my family thats the most important thing to me right now.
For St. Louis, at age 37, losing a full season could have a far more serious impact. The star right wing who joined the Bolts in 2000 played in 499 consecutive games (dating back to 2005) until being struck in the eye by a puck during a practice session last December.
The four-time All-Star with at least 60 points scored for nine straight seasons suffered facial and sinus fractures, but wound up missing only five games. He still finished the disappointing, non-playoff season for Tampa Bay with 74 points in 77 games. But losing extended time at this juncture in his career would be tough. St. Louis wasnt present on this day, but Lecavalier talked of his dedication and durability.
Hes pushing hard; hes in great shape, he said. Hes not a normal 37-year-old. His legs are like twice the size of mine. Hes quick. Hes fast-twitch. He wants to stay fresh. He wants to push himself. He doesnt come here just to skate around. Hes working hard to stay sharp. Im not sure what his plans are but hes definitely working out hard here to make sure that if it does start a week or month or whenever it is that hell be ready.
The same holds true for Lecavalier. When hes not at the regular morning workouts, hes doing his best to go with the flow.
I work out here and then go home and hang out with the kids, play golf, stay busy, he said. Its something I want to do in the summer time but not now.