Edmonton, AB - With the NHL/NHLPA's Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire at 11:59pm ET on Sept. 15, the Oilers are hoping the upcoming week will be a pivotal one in leveraging one last push to help strike a deal.
League Commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners are prepared to lock out the players if an agreement can't be reached by then.
"Everybody's holding some optimism this week," said Oilers players' representative -- and possible starting goalie -- Devan Dubnyk. [The NHL is] having the Board of Governors meetings and we'll have 200+ guys going out there."
According to Dubnyk, at least four Oilers players will be among those in attendance. No. 40 will not be one of them, as he was eager to settle in Edmonton and get on the ice in preparation for the upcoming season -- where and whenever it begins. Wednesday and Thursday's meetings are scheduled to be the NHLPA's largest gathering since the current CBA was agreed to in 2005.
"This is the last push before the 15th to see if something gets done," Dubnyk said. "We've always said we want to play, but we'll see if there's some movement on both sides. We've said that all along and [the NHL] squashed that idea pretty quick. If they change their minds, we'll certainly be ready to go while there are negotiations going on, but unfortunately I don't think that's going to be the case.
"We're preparing that there might not be (an agreement) and we'll have to stick it out. In the meantime, we're going to keep skating and keep working out as normal."
Jordan Eberle, who, like Dubnyk, had a career season in 2011-12 and was rewarded with a multi-year extension in the summer because of it, is in a similar boat. While optimism is something he'd like to share, the current circumstance (or stalemate) at the bargaining table doesn't seem all that positive.
"It's a good question," he chuckled. "I've kept tabs on it as much as I can with the information they've given me, but there's still a lot to be done and that's why there are so many players going down there for support. When you have that much support, you can go into a room with 300 guys and it sends a message.
"With everything going on and with the meetings coming up in New York, it's going to be a big week. You want to play hockey, but at the same time you want to get something that's fair for both sides."
Eberle, 22, scored 34 goals and 76 points in 78 games last season. If the season doesn't start on time, he'll exercise a couple options; Oklahoma City with the AHL's Barons is a distinct possibility, but he wouldn't say for sure.
"Right now I want to play for the Oilers," he said. "That's my mindset. When the time comes and I have to make a decision, I'll do what's best for me."
Dubnyk's Plan B involves playing "somewhere" but he's not sure where that will be.
The NHL and NHLPA met for an informal session this past Friday, but have yet to discuss their positions in more detail and/or present alternative proposals since Aug. 31. While it can change with one phone call, there are currently no meetings scheduled.
"It's disappointing," Dubnyk said, sporting his NHLPA baseball cap. "The optimism has gone down a bit as the summer has worn on, but if you asked everybody, they wouldn't think we'd be here."
SCHULTZ FITS IN
Lockout or no lockout, Oilers rookie Justin Schultz is excited to be back in Edmonton.
The 22-year-old signed a two-year entry-level contract with the club on Jun. 30 when the Oilers won a 29-team bidding war for the former Badger's services.
Since then, he's been back-and-forth between press conferences and PA obligations, including the Rookie Showcase last week in Toronto. Other than that, Schultz has been training with pros and former college stars with the University of Wisconsin, and soaking up the sun back in his picturesque hometown of Kelowna, BC.
"I'm nervous and I'm excited," he laughed. "It's another step up [to the NHL]. Guys are bigger, stronger, so it's going to be a big adjustment for me. I'm excited to get it started soon.
"I wanted to come in a little early and get to know the city and the land. Right now I'm staying with my uncle. I'll be living with (Sam) Gagner and (Ryan) Nugent-Hopkins if the season starts on time."
If the NHL season is delayed, Schultz will play with the Barons in OKC -- which is certainly no problem, considering all the good things he's heard about Oklahoma.
"It's tough. I'll be playing no matter what -- but I want things to get done here so we can play the game we love.
"It was cool," he said of Monday's skate, adding that dishing the puck with Ales Hemsky and other new teammates was a big step up. "You watch those guys on TV all the time growing up -- and Eberle last year, I watched a lot, so it was very cool."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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