Life in the American Hockey League went on as usual for the Skipjacks yesterday, one day after the beginning of the first strike in the 75-year history of the NHL.
The Skipjacks players and all AHL players have agreed in their Professional Hockey Players Association contract not to strike, and none will be called up as replacement players for the NHL teams.
The NHL owners and the NHL Players Association have agreed that replacement players would not be used the remainder of the regular season or in the playoffs scheduled to start in six days.
So, the Skipjacks are set to play their final three games this weekend and then head home. The Skipjacks long since have been eliminated from the AHL playoff chase.
Skipjacks coach Barry Trotz said the scene was a little eerie yesterday at Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton, as he sent his team through a final workout for tonight's 7:30 game against the Hershey Bears at the Baltimore Arena.
"It seemed strange without the big boys [Washington Capitals players who are on strike] there practicing," said Trotz. "We were the only ones practicing and the place seemed a little empty. Some of us gathered around the television and watched the TSN network in Toronto but there was not a lot happening in the talks."
Skipjacks player representative Steve Seftel, who is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, said a few of the Capitals players showed up at Piney Orchard for routine treatment yesterday even though they are on strike.
"None of them had much to say," said Seftel. "Everybody feels the same way. Everybody wants to get back to playing. If they [NHL players] did reach an agreement with the owners, two or three of our players would probably be held around for the playoffs on an emergency basis. If there is no agreement, we all go home."
Seftel said his understanding is there never will be a strike in the AHL.
"Our [PHPA] collective bargaining agreement doesn't allow us to strike," said Seftel. "If it ever gets to the possibility of a strike, an arbitrator will be called in to settle the disagreement. At least, that's the way I understand it."
Trotz said his primary concern over the strike is that minor-league hockey could be affected adversely by the loss of revenue from the playoffs for the owners.
"If the owners have to cut costs, the first place they will look is to the minor leagues," said Trotz. "We might see some teams go back to sharing minor-league franchises. Four years ago, the Capitals and the Hartford Whalers both stocked Binghamton. There could be less jobs for players and salaries could be cut at this level."
Trotz said he believes that NHL teams in smaller Canadian markets, such as the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers, might be the first to face major cost-cutting measures.
"Those are the prairie teams up there," he said. "I'm from Winnipeg and that's the biggest city [approximately 600,000 people] by far in the province of Manitoba."
NOTES: C Steve Konowalchuk, the Capitals' third-round pick in the 1991 entry draft, has joined the Skipjacks for their final three games after completing his season with Portland in the Western Hockey League. Konowalchuk had 51 goals and 53 assists in 64 games with Portland. "Steve is one of six junior players who will make things exciting for us over the last three games," said Trotz. "It will give us a peek into the future."