MINNEAPOLIS — By now, Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise should have already played in seven regular-season games with his new team. Instead of skating at Mariucci Arena on Sunday in a charity game, Parise should have been preparing to take on the Washington Capitals on Monday night at Xcel Energy Center.
Instead, the National Hockey League lockout has forced Parise and the rest of the league’s players to find other ways to get their hockey fix. On Sunday, the Defending the Blue Line charity game drew over 30 current and former NHL players to Minnesota.
On Friday, the NHL canceled all of its games through November as the players and owners have been unable to agree on how to share the league’s revenue. The ongoing struggle to come to an agreement has left a sour taste in Parise’s mouth, as well as his NHL brethren.
“Everyone’s getting frustrated. It’s not good for the game,” said Parise, who signed a 13-year, $98 million contract this offseason to join the Wild. “It was fun to come out here tonight and play in front of some people and have a good time and support a good cause. But hopefully we can start playing for real.”
While a full 82-game regular season hasn’t yet been ruled out, the chances of a full slate of games appear slim. Now, the players are just hoping they’ll have any sort of a season at all.
“We’re still hoping that something gets done,” said Islanders forward Kyle Okposo. “We all want to play. We would love to see something get done sooner rather than later.”
The lockout has been especially tough in Minnesota, as Wild fans were plenty excited after their team acquired Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter via free agency this offseason. Sunday’s charity game was the first time Minnesotans had a chance to watch the duo on the ice together. By this point, they should have had four games in St. Paul to have that opportunity.
“They’re excited. It seems like everyone’s excited for the team and for the season to start,” Parise said. “Unfortunately, it’s not fair to the fans what’s happening right now.”
The same can be said for fans of the Winnipeg Jets. The franchise moved from Atlanta (previously the Thrashers) to Winnipeg prior to the 2011-12 season. While the Jets missed out on the playoffs last year at 37-35-10, fans were happy to have hockey back in Winnipeg after the city’s team previously moved to Phoenix in 1996.
Like the Wild fans, Jets fans must wait for their newfound excitement.
“It’s kind of been ultimatum this, ultimatum that, back and forth,” Jets forward Blake Wheeler said of the lockout and the ongoing negotiations. “At this point, nothing’s really surprising anymore. It’s really too bad. I think compared to the last lockout, it seems almost foolish we are where we are. We should be able to hammer out a deal. We’re a lot closer. We’re bargaining over things that shouldn’t be keeping us out of hockey right now.”
For one night, the game returned to the State of Hockey. Players such as Islanders forward Kyle Okposo, Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk and Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien took the ice in Minneapolis, having nowhere else to play.
They’re all hoping the lockout ends soon and they can get back to playing games that count in the standings.
“I know as players, we believe in what we’re fighting for. We believe in the cause,” Wheeler said. “I think that’s the most important thing is that we’re unified; we’re informed. From there, you can only try to strike a fair deal. Obviously, we’re not trying to get everything on our wish list. That’s not the way deals get done.
“But at the same time, there’s got to be some give and take on both sides to be able to negotiate and bargain. That’s the way this thing works. Until you get to that point, there’s going to be a lot more charity games.”