Expect NHL players to get off to slow start

NHL games should begin Saturday after a 113-day lockout by the owners in a collective bargaining agreement dispute.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is, the first couple of weeks of play – maybe longer – will be brutal. Don’t expect any scintillating play.

NHL clubs will have less than a week of organized practice before the puck is dropped for games that count.

Normally, training camps go three to four weeks, with teams playing a half-dozen preseason games to get ready for the regular season.

Not all of a team’s players skate in every preseason game, of course. Farmhands get a lot of ice time and a strong look to see what talent they have and how they might fit into a team’s future plans.

But players destined to make the regular season roster see enough work to get in reasonably good shape and to hone their skills.

That won’t be the case now.

Sure, some NHL players have been skating on their own for several weeks. It’s not the same as organized practice with teammates, but it’s something.

And there have been several players who have skated for teams in Europe while the lockout continued.

The Detroit Red Wings’ Pavel Datsyuk was one such player. He played 31 games for CSKA Moscow, scoring 11 goals and recording 25 assists.

Once he returns, and everyone in the Wings’ organization is certain he will shortly, Datsyuk should be in great game shape to start the abbreviated NHL season.

But there will also be many players who have only skated on their own since the end of the 2011-12 season. It’s not the same as reacting to game situations and playing with a high level of skill.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is already apologizing for the lockout and the “tough decisions” he – through the league’s owners – felt he had to make.

It would be nice if the sports’ fans would at least make a symbolic gesture of their displeasure over what went on for so many months. An empty stadium or two for games once the season starts would be nice.

But the fans will eventually come back. They did twice before, when lockouts limited the 1995 season to 48 games and wiped out the entire 2004-05 campaign.

They just couldn’t help themselves. Either that, or they don’t care about lengthy lockouts.

“The players are ready to play their hearts out for you, the teams are preparing to welcome you back with open arms, the wait is just about over,” Bettman said in a report to fans last week.

That may be true. Just don’t expect the quality of play to be anywhere near where it should be for at least the first few weeks.

Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251. His email address is cremsburg@miningjournal.net