Senators players putting European hockey on hold

Senators players putting European hockey on hold
Members of the Kanata Blazers Major Atom B hockey team cheer on CHris Neil as some of the Ottawa Senators skate at Bell Sensplex. (Chris Mikula / Ottawa Citizen)

Ottawa Senators players Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, Zack Smith and Colin Greening have all taken a break from playing in Europe, lending to the general tone of optimism that the end of the NHL lockout could be near.

Yet as has been the case throughout all the highs and lows of the four-month squabble between NHL owners and players, Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson isn’t allowing himself to get too excited, too soon.

In order to salvage a 48-game season, it’s believed that games would have to start on Jan. 19 at the latest, with training camps opening Jan. 12. That means the sides have precious little time to resolve their differences or the season will be wiped out entirely.

“I think it’s just nice to know that we’re going to know, either way,” Alfredsson said following Wednesday’s skate with Senators’ Chris Neil, Marc Methot, Peter Regin, Erik Condra, along with Chris Kelly of the Boston Bruins and Grant Clitsome of the Winnipeg Jets. “They’re talking. It seems like real negotiating, which is good. Hopefully something gets done so we can get back to work.”

Accordingly, many NHL players who had been in Europe have either returned home or opted not to rush back to their lockout clubs. That group includes Spezza, who scored nine goals and 21 assists in 28 games with Rapperswil-Jona of the Swiss Elite League and then helped with the Spengler Cup as part of a loaded Canadian squad.

“A lot of guys are doing that and I’ve talked to Erik (Karlsson), too,” Alfredsson said of the Senators’ star defenceman, who has scored nine goals and 25 assists with Jokerit in Finland. “(Karlsson) is taking a little break before committing to anything. Everybody is anxious to know what’s going to happen.”

Both Smith and Greening have been playing in Denmark.

Players, however, are generally being cautious in what they’re saying publicly.

Condra, who returned late last month from playing in Germany, does acknowledge that it’s easier to get a handle on the ongoing negotiations on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

While in Germany, he says he was typically receiving some of his information “second hand” and the time change difference often made it difficult to get immediate updates. Although he says he’s hardly an insider to the talks, he’s keeping his fingers crossed that the end is near.

“There’s a deadline coming up and the guys are hopeful that something can happen,” he said.

Milan Michalek, Sergei Gonchar and Kaspars Daugavins are still playing with their European teams.

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