Flyers pushing forward while waiting for NHL lockout to end
Players returning to Philadelphia to train
Max Talbot barnstormed through Quebec, laced up skates in Finland, and played for the Spengler Cup in Switzerland.
Looking for work because of the NHL lockout, Talbot's worldwide hockey tour at last brought him back to the one team he never wanted to leave:
Talbot returned this week to Philadelphia, even as the lockout reached its 111th day with more than 625 lost games. As talks continued in the hunt for a new collective bargaining agreement, veterans like Talbot, defenceman Kimmo Timonen and forward Jody Shelley are working out at the Flyers' New Jersey training facility, so that when the call does come — if it comes — later this month with the announcement of a shortened season, they'll be ready.
"It's great to be back in the facility, skating with the guys, hopefully thinking you're getting ready for the season," Talbot said Friday. "It's all or nothing now. We all hope. We're not sure."
Talbot's return wasn't because of some inside information the labour dispute was about to be settled. Rather, he bought a townhouse in Philadelphia and had some last-minute financial details to sort out.
He joined a small group of teammates and former Flyers that included Andrej Meszaros, Andreas Nodl and Brian Boucher for a light, 60-minute workout. Most of the core, with a few additions and subtractions, have been skating together since September. All of them would trade drills for coach Peter Laviolette's training camp.
The sides have only one week to reach a deal on a collective bargaining agreement that would allow for a 48-game season — the minimum the NHL has said it will play. Commissioner Gary Bettman set a Jan. 11 deadline for an agreement so the season can begin eight days later.
The NHL and the union met separately with a federal mediator on Friday.
"Hopefully, we can all put this behind us and start playing hockey," Talbot said. "But who knows?"
Talbot needed his passport as much as his stick over the last four months, teaming with Flyers defenceman Bruno Gervais to start a goodwill barnstorming tour in Quebec. His games raised more than $400,000 for various foundations and charity-based groups, mostly helping sick children.
"That was a lot of work," Talbot said. "Pretty challenging, but awesome."
Playing in Europe
From there, Talbot signed for a five-week stint with Ilves, a Finnish team, before playing with HC Fribourg-Gotteron in Switzerland in the Spengler Cup. The Spengler Cup was first held in 1923 and is the world's oldest pro hockey tournament. He was back in North America on Jan. 2.
Where he goes from here? Like everything else in the NHL these days: To be determined.
"I want to play hockey," Talbot said, adding he would likely return overseas if the NHL season is wiped out.
Talbot, and most Flyers fans, need a refresher on the team's moves following a 103-point season and a second-round loss to New Jersey in the playoffs.
The Flyers lost out on free-agent stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Jaromir Jagr and Matt Carle left. And they traded James van Riemsdyk. The biggest off-season additions, on the other hand, were Gervais, defenceman Luke Schenn and left wing Ruslan Fedotenko.
But the lineup is far from set. General manager Paul Holmgren, after all, may have quite a bit more manoeuvring ahead if the Flyers are forced to get under a slashed salary cap that could be put in place under a new labour deal.
Talbot and the rest of the scaled-back Flyers have to rent ice time at the team's practice rink and cannot dress in the Flyers' locker room. Meszaros, however, was allowed to work with team trainers because he was injured. He tore his right Achilles' tendon training in Slovakia and would not have been ready to start the season in October. Because of the lockout, Meszaros could be cleared if the puck really does drop in two weeks.
"It's still not there where I want it to be," Meszaros said. "I want to make sure it's 100 per cent because I don't want to come back soon."
Only injured players would consider a mid-January NHL return, "too soon." The rest of the league, meanwhile, can't wait to get a fair deal and get back on the ice.
But the time off hasn't been completely wasted. Shelley, a 12-year veteran, joked that he's been playing "Mr. Mom."
Timonen, who had surgery in May to remove a disc fragment from his lower back, passed on a chance to return to his native Finland to play. He's been a stay-at-home dad and tagged along on road trips to watch his 13-year-old son play on a youth hockey team.
"If there's something good about the lockout, at least I've been able to get healthy and spend time with my family," he said. "It's been great. I've got to be honest, there are a lot of weekends I didn't miss hockey that much. ... I probably saw my son play now more than his whole life. It's been fun."
But it's time to get back to work.