PHILADELPHIA PA - DECEMBER 01: Kimmo Timonen #44 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on against the Boston Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center on December 1 2010 in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
As the NHL lockout continues to drag on and pre-season games having been cancelled through the end of September, 37-year-old Philly defenseman Kimmo Timonen enters the final year of a 6-year contract with a great deal of uncertainty.
One of nine players to rent out the Flyers Skate Zone Wednesday -- the others being defensemen Nicklas Grossmann, Erik Gustafsson, and Oliver Lauridsen; forwards Matt Read, Jody Shelley, and Colby Cohen (a Villanova-native who played for the Providence Bruins over the course of the past two years); and Flyers' prospect Niko Hovinen and former-Flyer and current-Carolina Hurricane netminder Brian Boucher between the pipes -- Timonen skated under the watchful eye of former-Flyer Todd Fedoruk, who ran the makeshift practice and guided the players through various drills.
It was kind of a strange scene, as the players (minus Hovinen) each skated with their jerseys turned inside out, so as to not show the NHL logos of their respective clubs. All that could barely be seen was the inverted outlines of each teams' insignias.
When asked if he felt it was weird with only nine guys out there and jerseys inside out, Timonen was matter of fact.
"That is the situation," he noted. "We try to stay in shape, and obviously some guys are sent to the minors and some guys are going to Europe (with lockout pacts with teams overseas)."
Timonen was one of those players who went overseas during 2004 -- back to his native Finland -- when that lockout unfortunately cost the league the entire campaign.
"It wasn't that bad", he said. "Obviously my family was here so it wasn't a great situation, but at least you could get some games and stay in shape."
As for if he has any plans to go to Finland if this year's work stoppage turns into a protracted ordeal, Timonen is taking a wait and see approach. "We'll see how this thing goes."
But Timonen -- who said he has not heard anything in recent days with regards to CBA negotiations -- knows the current labor dispute is not just about the veteran players, but also the youngsters and those yet to enter the league in the coming years.
"We go day by day and see what's going to happen," he said. "If it's a month, if it's two months, if it's a year, whatever it takes. Because it's not just for us, it's for the future. Seven years ago we lost an entire year, and we pretty much lost that time."
The players did lose that time -- to the tune of 24% of their salary, in addition to having a hard salary cap initiated -- but Timonen feels the current version of the NHLPA, now headed by Donald Fehr, is much better prepared this time around.
"Feels like we're more educated this time, and we know more what's going on."
The 5' 10", 194-pounder, who underwent back surgery to remove a disc fragment following Philadelphia's elimination at the hands of the New Jersey Devils in late-May, is one of the more popular Flyers among both teammates and fans, and could even be in line for the vacant on-ice captaincy with Chris Pronger likely headed to LTIR when play resumes -- that is, if Philly decides to name another captain. Timonen actually wore the 'C' during 2006-07, his last year in Nashville. He's a leader on the ice and with the past experience would have to be one of those strongly considered for the spot.
Timonen feels for those same fans who idolize him, who have already endured the loss of an entire season.
"It's day-by-day for them, too," he said. "Obviously we want to play, and the fans are missing the game. But there's not much we can do. Hopefully we can work this out quick because we all want to be on the ice and play the game, but like I said, this is for the future. It's not just for us."
The defenseman has had a number of lingering injuries over the past couple of seasons. As for the effect the lockout could have on his health this year if an agreement is reached at some point, a shortened regular season schedule may just be a blessing in disguise. But it is dependent on when a CBA is agreed upon, because it could end up more games have to be jammed into each week to accommodate a narrower window of the NHL calendar, and that would be a worst-case scenario for Timonen -- as well as an injury ravaged group of defenders, which could be left with a thin corps with Pronger and Andrej Meszaros already out long-term.
The current labor mess has placed Timonen in a rather awkward situation. The 37-year-old Finn, who along with defensive partner Braydon Coburn makes one half of the club's top blue line pairing, is heading into the final year of a six-year contract.
With the uncertainty of when (or even if) the lockout will end at any time this season -- and with players that are beloved league-wide like Anaheim Duck legend Teemu Selanne and Ottawa Senator captain Daniel Alfredsson having decided to return for one last season -- the 13-year veteran finds himself in a somewhat comparable situation, and was asked about what his future might be.
"It's tough, because this could be my last year", Timonen said. "You never know. I feel like I'm in great shape right now, but to be honest if thing's going to drag on two months, three months...who knows, I might lose my motivation. We'll see what happens after, but like I said we go day-by-day and hopefully this thing moves forward pretty quick."
But if the season were to be lost, Timonen said he would have to take inventory and consider all things as to how he were to proceed moving forward.
"If it happens, then I have to regroup and see if I've got more energy and that kind of stuff to move forward and maybe play one more year", adding that at this point in his career, he's taking things one year at a time.
As for the stoppage, Timonen echoes a similar sentiment as anyone else who is worried about losing any regular season games -- the league already announced today the cancellation of all pre-season contests up through September 30.
"Hopefully they can get together and get the deal done."
That's exactly what everyone is hoping, for sanity to ultimately prevail in a scenario that hasn't seen much of it as of yet. With the owners basically giving the Players' Association an ultimatum that they must agree to the 17% salary rollback if they want to resume talks, it could indeed be a lengthy absence of NHL hockey this season.
Have we seen Timonen play his last NHL game? It's possible and if it were to be the case, it definitely would be a shame. Players the caliber of Kimmo, Selanne, and Alfredsson, who have gained such a throng of loyal fans, deserve something of a farewell tour for their supporters to be able to give them a proper goodbye.
It's called closure and anything less would seem almost unfair -- from the perspective of the players, as well as their fans.
Grossmann's First Flyers Camp Delayed
"It's a different feeling, for sure," the defender said about the informal workouts. "This time of year you're used to getting going with the team, prepare for training camp and all that. It is what it is, and kind of have to make the best of it."
Acquired from the Dallas Stars for two draft picks just before the trade deadline late last February, this was to be the 6' 4", 230-pound blue liner's first training camp with the Flyers.
Having begun his career in 2006-07, this is Grossmann's first taste of an NHL work stoppage. And patience, as is the case with many of his union brothers, seems to be the plan.
When asked if he had any idea as to how long the lockout might last, the defenseman laughed. "I think you guys (media) might know more than me", he joked. "We try to get updates all the time, we get info. We talk to guys around the league and see what happens. We talk to Don (Fehr) and his staff and we know they're doing a good job. So it's like I said, just take it day by day, and get as much info as you can and make the best of it."
When asked if he intends to play overseas in the event of an extended stoppage, Grossmann said he just might end up taking that path.
"Yeah, if it gets to that (point), you want to play hockey, that's what it's about. I mean, everyone wants to play. It gets old just practicing for whatever the time's going to be (locked out). If it takes a long time, you might have to go home."
Fedoruk Was Just "In The Right Place At The Right Time"
Fedoruk, who played for the Philadelphia organization from 1999-00 through 2004-05, then again for part of the 2006-07 campaign, did a good job running the players through drills Wednesday.
"Just being in the right place at the right time", Fedoruk explained of how he came to run the impromptu practice. "I've always been coming back to the facility and training in the summers and basically I'm still doing that now in retirement. I just like being around the rink and I know some of the guys and when the lockout happened, and the availability of someone to run practices, one of the guys asked me -- (Scott) Hartnell asked me if I'd run the practices for him. I'm not hired by anybody in the NHL so there's nothing to stop me from doing it."
And the experience could be a means to an end for the former enforcer. Having assisted with the players for the ECHL's Trenton Titans last season, "Fridge" is hoping to pay his dues and have the opportunity to maybe one day eventually gain a full-time coaching gig somewhere in professional hockey. When Hartnell inquired, Fedoruk was more than happy to come aboard.
"It's good experience for me and I enjoy doing it, so I said of course I would."
As for the players he's coaching, Fedoruk says they're hungry.
"They want to keep working, they want to stay ready, and they want this (lockout) to just be over", he said. "It's their job to stay ready and who knows how long this will last, and they're using me to run practices for them, get drills for them, and keep them ready."
"I just do what I can do to keep them ready to play."
As for Fedoruk's future, he is a free agent.
"I want to get involved and stay involved in hockey," he said of his intentions. "Personally for me, this (running practices) is good experience, working with NHL players, and it keeps my availability out there to teams that want to bring a guy in. That's the way I look at it. I care about the athlete, I care about the player, I care about the game of hockey, and at the end of the day, that's what it comes down to."
Indeed, it does. Here's wishing Fedoruk all the best as he continues to work with the players and in the process pursues his next dream in the game he loves.