Alaskans don't see NHL lockout ending soon

commentSeptember 20, 2012 

Scott Gomez is unemployed at the moment, and you can imagine how easily the jokes come about that, given that hockey has made him a gazillionaire.

How he's sure to have a soft landing during this NHL lockout -- as long he lands on his wallet.

How any disappointment he feels can be soothed -- just wipe away those tears with stacks of cash.

He gets it. "I've been blessed, beyond ...'' Gomez said.

Beyond, well, practically anything.

A 12-year NHL career has made Gomez arguably the greatest success story to come out of Airport Heights -- he is supposed to be entering the sixth year of a seven-year, $51.5 million contract. But when he should be in Montreal for training camp, intent on bouncing back from the most injury-plagued, points-deficient season of his career, Gomez on Thursday morning found himself back inside Ben Boeke Arena, where he spent so much of his youth.

He was there with a couple of other NHLers from Anchorage, Columbus Blue Jackets center Brandon Dubinsky, and Washington Capitals winger Joey Crabb, skating through drills with a handful or two of locals who play in the minor leagues. The guys work out at Louis Mass' facility early in the morning, then skate at Boeke.

They find themselves back in their hometown because the NHL has locked out the players after the collective bargaining agreement between it and the NHL Players' Association expired last weekend. Gomez, Dubinsky and Crabb were among seven Alaskans who were regulars in the NHL last season.

NHL owners want players to give up significant revenue and take salary cuts, which you might rightly call ironic coming from the very people who routinely sign players to the fat, long-term contracts said owners contend are crippling the game. That amounts to the owners pleading for an intervention -- save us from ourselves.

The players, who pretty much gave in after a lockout canceled the entire 2004-05 season, aren't biting much.

Granted, it's not as if a guy like Gomez, 32, is going to have to move in with his folks. He just wants to play hockey. It's what he does. Still, he sounds ready for a long layoff because he remembers the 2004-05 NHL lockout, which killed the entire season, so well. As puckheads will no doubt recall, Gomez played that season for the ECHL's Alaska Aces.

"I went through one lockout they said would only be two weeks, and the next thing I knew I was living back in Anchorage,'' Gomez said. "You just have to stay strong. We players know what's right. The fans lose out.''

Settle down, Cowbell Crew, because Gomez doesn't intend to play for the Aces again.

"I'm glad I did it, when I did it,'' Gomez said. "It's still one of the best times I've ever had. It was a total one-time deal. It's a younger guy's deal.''

Gomez said he's had some feelers from European teams -- many NHLers are signing with European clubs, just like in 2004-05 -- but has no immediate plans to head across the pond.

Dubinsky, 26, is just entering what should be the prime of his career after the New York Rangers traded him to Columbus. He was ticketed to make $3.75 million this season but isn't sure if he'll play anywhere during the lockout.

"I don't have a plan,'' said Dubinsky, who married over the summer. "I'm here, I'm skating. It was a chance to come home and visit my family.''

Mostly, he's disappointed.

"You work so hard your whole life to make it to the NHL, and you work so hard to earn the NHL contract you earned,'' Dubinsky said. "To have them threaten you with pay cuts and lost time is bulls--t.''

He doesn't see the lockout ending soon.

"I'm not a prophet, but I think (owners) will wait until we miss a paycheck or two -- middle of November -- and see if we'll stay strong,'' Dubinsky said.

The lockout hits Crabb, 29, the hardest. He finally made the NHL full-time with Toronto last season in his fifth campaign as a pro, and Washington signed him to a one-year, $950,000 deal that marked his first one-way contract -- he gets $950,000 whether he plays in the NHL or the American Hockey League. Every previous contract Crabb played under was a two-way deal. Last season, he started with AHL Toronto at a salary of $105,000 before he was quickly promoted to NHL Toronto, where his salary was $750,000.

In other words, Crabb's deal with the Capitals, though only for one season, was a sign he finally cracked the NHL. Only, obviously, he is not playing anywhere.

"I've thought about all the different options, but I don't know what I'm going to do,'' Crabb said.

He's not ruling out any playing options, he said. And while it's fun to skate with friends like Gomez and Dubinsky, he'd rather be at work, in Washington. His career has taken him to the U.S. national program in Michigan, to junior hockey in Wisconsin, to four years at Colorado College, to Chicago and Toronto of the AHL, and to Toronto and Washington of the NHL. He cleaned his gear out of his stall in Washington before he played a game for the Caps.

And now he finds himself back home, in the rink where he grew up.

"It's weird,'' Crabb said. "I haven't spent time in Alaska this time of year since I was about 15.''


This column is the opinion of Daily News reporter Doyle Woody. Find his blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.

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