PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The latest lockout in the National Hockey League has caused the preseason and first couple of weeks of regular season games to be canceled.
Players and coaches alike are anxious to get back to work and get the new season underway.
KDKA-TV’s Bob Pompeani met up with Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma recently to talk about the lockout and to get his thoughts on players coming up through the system.
However, instead of meeting at the rink, the duo met up on the golf course.
“The question comes every day. ‘How do you feel? Time off, more vacation.’ Which, almost makes my skin crawl having someone say ‘more vacation’ because I want to work. I want to get the season going, want to be on the ice coaching hockey. It’s not happening right now. So, you go into work and you just don’t feel like you’re doing the right thing,” Bylsma said.
Both the NHL and NHLPA have held talks recently, but the biggest issue of how to split hockey related revenue has not been on the agenda. Some experts and former NHL players, including Wayne Gretzky, believe there will be hockey this season. However, it may not happen until the Winter Classic on Jan. 1.
“I’ve been optimistic for a long time this summer and coming into September and the start of training camp. I’ve been optimistic and I still am optimistic. I still think we’re going to get at this thing and get at it soon,” Bylsma said.
Bylsma has the unique position of experiencing a lockout from both sides of the coin as a player and a coach. However, he said this current lockout has a different feel than the last one, which caused the cancellation of the 2004-05 season.
“I think it’s a completely different feel. I had the experience of going up to ‘05 as a player, retired at the end of the hockey season in ‘05 and then started looking for a coaching job. So, I was kind of in the middle of that one. So, this one I think is completely different, felt different from the players’ standpoint. I think from every situation, this one’s been different,” Bylsma said.
While the NHL and NHLPA continue to try and hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement, the American Hockey League is already in the middle of their preseason schedule.
While Bylsma would rather have seen some of the younger players in training camp in Pittsburgh, he attended the first few days of camp for the club’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“With the start of the Wilkes-Barre camp the 25th of September, we thought it was important to go down there. I spent the first four days, [assistant coach Todd Reirden] has been down there for the last five and really some of those players – about 15 of those players – are going to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins this year. They’re going to play important games, play meaningful games,” Bylsma said.
“Some of those guys I have not coached, have not met, have not seen – Trevor Smith, Warren Peters. Some of the young guys, our first-round pick Joe Morrow’s turned pro and started, Beau Bennett down there, so getting down there and having a chance to get on the ice, to interact with them, to coach them a little bit. To see them go through training camp I thought was an opportunity we needed to take so that when we do get on the ice, I’m going to know who Trevor Smith is when he walks through the door.”
If you look at the Penguins’ depth chart, it won’t take long to notice the wealth of young talent in the system. This is especially true in the defense corps, which became even more loaded over the summer at the NHL Draft and with the trade of Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes.
The amount of young talent poses a bit of a problem for Bylsma, but it is a problem he’s glad to have.
“It’s an amazing problem to have, but it is a bit of a problem. We have so many good young players right now and so many coming. Scott Harrington, who we didn’t get a chance to see in training camp this year, who’s back in London with the Knights in the OHL, Olli Maatta, our first-round pick this year, Derrick Pouliot, our first-round pick this year, all are going to be great pros and they’re coming down the chute,” Bylsma said.
“In addition to that, Brian Dumoulin in the Staal trade this year has stared down in Wilkes-Barre, Joe Morrow, our first-round pick from two years ago, has started. All these guys are getting some experience starting [earlier this month.] And really, it’s great for them. It’s great for them to get going. It’s great for them to be on the ice and getting some games in shortly [with] an exhibition season for them and then onto the season because these guys are going to be real good pros down the road in the National Hockey League. So, there’s a big influx, a lot of competition down in Wilkes Barre with about 11 defensemen.”
In order to get game experience, about 100 NHL players have gone overseas to play hockey in Europe, including Evgeni Malkin.
Malkin is playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL along with former Penguin Sergei Gonchar.
“I like seeing players play. I think the game shape and playing in the game is something that you just can’t simulate working out on your own, working out with a few guys or 10, 12 guys. I know we have a group of guys working out here in Pittsburgh, 12 to 14 that are working out. I know they’re getting their reps in, but to be able to play in games, that’s going to be an advantage when we get back here. It’s going to be short time now between when we start and when we play games and having that advantage for guys like Malkin to be playing I think is a good thing,” Bylsma said.
Of course, there is a risk of injury with playing the game of hockey, but Bylsma isn’t overly concerned about the prospect of seeing his players get hurt during the lockout.
“I don’t worry about them driving their cars to the rink and there’s some danger in that. So, that’s obviously a possibility, but not something I worry too much about,” Bylsma said.
The Penguins were originally slated to open the season at home on Oct. 12 against the New York Islanders.
The NHL and NHLPA are expected to resume talks later this week.