ST. LOUIS – Blues defenseman Barret Jackman had an idea late Saturday night that the NHL lockout might soon be ending. He couldn’t fall back asleep when the news became official early Sunday morning.
Communicating with players involved in the negotiations in New York, Jackman went to bed thinking things were close. When the deal was finally reached somewhere around 4:30 a.m. St. Louis time, the longest-tenured Blue received one of the happiest wakeup calls of his life.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Jackman said. “There have been a lot of anxious fans waiting around to hear the news and get rid of the business side and be able to drop the puck and play some hockey finally.
“I had a little bit of a sense of what was going to happen before I went to sleep but I was definitely woken up in the middle of the night and was not able to go back to bed with the excitement that we were finally able to play some hockey.”
Training camp won’t officially open until this weekend but that didn’t stop eight Blues players from gathering for an informal workout Monday morning at their practice facility at the St. Louis Mills. More are expected to arrive by Tuesday.
A group of players have held informal workouts at a nearby rink in Chesterfield throughout the lockout. Monday was the first time they wore Blues practice gear.
Among those who skated at the Mills before a small crowd Monday were Jackman, David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Andy McDonald, Alex Pietrangelo, David Perron, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Nichol and goalie Brian Elliott.
“I was shocked at the jump in everybody’s step and how hard we went,” Jackman said. “We only have eight guys at the moment with more guys coming in each day. We are definitely ramping it up. It’s nice that we’re going to have a few days before all the business and the I’s are dotted and T’s crossed but hopefully training camp starts this weekend and we’ll be one of the teams that will be ready by the first game.”
The NHL has yet to release the 48-game schedule that will begin on Jan. 19 but a number of players have already been briefed on some of the highlights.
And Jackman left Blues fans with a deep tease in advance of the announcement.
“If everything goes well, we’ll be starting Saturday and Sunday with a back-to-back,” Jackman said of Jan. 19 and 20. “I don’t want to give anything out that maybe could change but it’s definitely a big rival and it will be a very exciting start of the season for St. Louis Blues fans.
“It will be a home-and-home against the same team that’s definitely a hated rival of the Blues.”
The two most logical teams to fit that description would be either the Detroit Red Wings or Chicago Blackhawks. The NHL is expected to release the schedule once the deal is officially voted on and signed later this week.
The Blues are coming off an impressive 2011-2012 campaign in which they won the Central Division and reached the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in a decade.
Goalies Elliott and Jaroslav Halak both return after combining to win the Jennings Trophy a year ago for allowing the fewest goals in the league. And nearly the rest of their roster returns as well, fueling plenty of excitement as things prepare to get going.
“We’ve already had discussions about last year and things we can improve on and things that went our way,” Jackman said. “I think with the guys coming back from Europe, the memory is still fresh in our minds of what we did last year and what we weren’t able to accomplish. I think we’ll feed off that and it will be a short training camp but the excitement of being on the ice again will carry over.
“We’re pretty much the same team as last year.”
As for the fans, Jackman and the Blues know it will take time to smooth things over. And the easiest way to do that would be to bring the Stanley Cup to St. Louis for the first time in franchise history.
“There was a lot of give and take on both sides,” Jackman said. “There were no winners in this. We were all losers. To tell you the truth, I’m a little bit embarrassed to say that it took the 100 whatever days to get this done. There’s going to be a lot of mending the fences with fans and really there’s nothing we can say to make this right other than go out and play our hearts out and put a winning team on the ice and get the fans back that way.
“If we put a poor product on the ice then the fans will really be ticked off. We’re going to go out there and give it our all and I’m sure we’ll do some stuff during training camp to try to say sorry to the fans but the product we put on the ice will be the end game for us.”