The National Hockey League lockout should end soon. The owners and players are finally bargaining for real.
The two sides finally quit posturing. Gary Bettman stopped making take-it-or-leave-it offers. Owners are pressuring Bettman to salvage a partial season. NHLPA czar Donald Fehr knows his rank and file members are getting more than a little restless.
It could take a few days, but the two sides could hammer out a tentative agreement this week by committing to making a deal.
Once this ridiculous stoppage ends, teams will have precious little time to prepare for a 48- or 50-game season. Teams suffering slow starts risk falling out the abbreviated playoff race.
The Edmonton Oilers placed four key players in the American Hockey League this season. That commitment -- combined with the work other Oilers did in Europe this season – should help them blast out of the gate.
The Blues should be reasonably prepared to start play. Several key players have stayed fresh by playing in Europe or down in the AHL.
Here is a quick update:
Alex Steen, MoDo Hockey, Sweden: He missed time earlier this season with a thigh muscle tear. Overall he scored eight goals and 14 assists in 20 games.
Patrik Berglund, VIK Västerås HK, Sweden: He tore up the second-tier Allsvenskan with 20 goals and 11 assists in his first 28 games back home this season.
Kevin Shattenkirk, TPS Turku, Finland: He scored two goals and earned four assists in his first nine games after arriving in Finland in midseason.
Vladimir Sobotka, HC Slavia Praha, Czech Republic: He scored 10 goals and added 12 assists in 25 games while playing a primary offensive role for his team in the Tipsport Extraliga. He scored two goals and earned an assist in his last four games.
Vladimir Tarasenko, SKA St. Petersburg, Russia: He scored 13 goals and added 16 assists in 29 games in the KHL this season. He scored six of those goals in his first seven games this season, but suffered a concussion in October.
Chris Stewart, ETC Crimmitschau, Germany: He landed in the second-tier Bundesliga after an unhappy five-game turn with Bili Tygri Liberec in the Czech Republic’s top league. He scored six goals and added 14 assists in 15 games in Germany.
Kris Russell, TPS Turku, Finland: He scored two goals and added 12 assists in 15 games. He missed time earlier this season with a leg injury.
Roman Polak, HC Vitkovice Steel, Czech Republic: The Rominator earned 79 penalty minutes in 22 games playing in the Czech Elite League. He also scored two goals and added six assists to go with a minus-2 rating.
Matt D’Agostini, SC Riessersee, Germany: He scored two goals and added six assists in his first 10 games for his team in the second tier Bundesliga.
Jaroslav Halak, EHC Lausitzer Füchse, Germany: He played one game earlier this season and allowed one goal in 65 minutes for this team in the second tier Bundesliga. There were reports he would sign with Spartak of the KHL, but that never materialized.
Jaden Schwartz, Peoria Rivermen: He picked up his scoring pace in the AHL in December, scoring four goals and adding five assists during a nine-game spurt. He is still digging out from November, when Peoria struggled and he posted a minus-10 rating (with just four points) in 11 games.
Ian Cole, Rivermen: He didn’t register a point during his first nine games, but then he got back on track with nine points during a nine-game span in November. Overall he has 14 points with a minus-6 rating in 32 games.
So the Blues won’t have a massive amount of collective rust to scrape off once NHL teams reconvene.
AROUND THE RINKS
Blues prospects Ty Rattie (Canada) and Dmitri Jaskin (Czech Republic) furthered their development at the World Junior Championships. Rattie is a natural scorer who will need to get much stronger to prosper at the pro level. Jaskin is a strong player still developing the offensive side of his game . . . If the lockout ends, will the Canucks finally deal Roberto Luongo to Toronto? That may not be easy if the NHL succeeds in lowering the salary cap dramatically for the 2013-14 season . . . Say, did Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov get hurt playing in Russian this season? And will Flyers forward Daniel Briere be ready when the NHL resumes play after suffering a wrist injury in Europe?. . . . The Spengler Cup gave some NHL stalwarts a chance to taste some star-against-star competition in Europe. John Tavares, Patrice Bergeron and Ryan Smyth were among those benefiting . . . Can the Russian media get enough of this Alex Ovechkin-Maria Kirilenko engagement? And will settling down help Ovie regain his dominant goal-scoring form?
THE LONG ROAD BACK
Peoria Journal Star reporter Dave Eminian offered an interesting update on Blues prospect Jay Barriball, a high-energy collegiate player whose transition to pro hockey has been slowed by a knee injury and serious concussion. He has addressed the latter issue with prescription goggles that helped him regain his equilibrium.
“The real change is this new treatment plan where I’ve been fitted for special goggles,” Barriball told Eminian. “I had a concussion, and they think there are lingering things from it that cause my vision to change, my balance to change, when I’m on the ice.
“It’s strange because I don’t have glasses or contacts. Don’t need them. But these are prescription goggles, and when I wear them on the ice, for some reason, everything goes away. There are no problems with vision or equilibrium or anything. And my knee doesn’t hurt.”
The Blues acquired the rights to Barriball, a former University of Minnesota standout, as part of the 2007 bail-out trade that sent Bill Guerin to San Jose. He has played sparingly in the NHL due to injuries.