By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal
It’s time for Justin Abdelkader to get back to work.
With the National Hockey League lockout nearing its end, Abdelkader and his Detroit Red Wing teammates are returning to Hockeytown to prepare for the start of the abbreviated 2012-2013 season, minus the 2012 portion of it, of course.
“I heard about it (tentative agreement) from my Dad on Sunday morning,” Abdelkader said. “I couldn’t believe it, it was crazy. I was wondering if he was serious, or not.
“But, I’m just excited and it’s a weight off our shoulders,” he said.
Later on Sunday, Aldelkader packed up his stuff then on Monday morning headed from Muskegon to his home in the Detroit suburbs. He skated Monday morning with eight of his teammates.
Abdelkader expects the remainder of his teammates to trickle into town the rest of this week. A handful of players will be coming from Europe, where they were playing during the lockout.
Abdelkader said his agent was exploring options for him to play overseas, but didn’t want to head overseas, play for a week or two, then return home if the lockout ended. NHL players were not allowed to play in the American Hockey League during the lockout due to its connection with the NHL.
“My agent wanted to hold off and see what would happen down the stretch here,” Abdelkader said. “We wanted to see if the season got canceled, but he was already looking and keeping an eye out.”
But that’s a thing of the past as the NHL players get ready to get back to work.
“I feel like I’m in good shape, it’s just a matter of getting in game shape,” Abdelkader said. “We’ve only been on the ice four days a week. We’ve been getting the most out of our skates, but training camp will be good for us.”
It will be a training camp, minus the preseason games.
“It’s not going to be easy for the buys who haven’t been playing,” Abdelkader said. “We are going to have a lot of games in a short amount of time.”
Officially, the NHL lockout will not end until both the league’s board of governors and the members of the NHLPA cast their votes. No official team operations can begin until that deal is signed, including the signing of free agents, trades and camp.
A 48-game season is tentatively expected to begin Jan. 19.
“The first little bit will be tough,” Abdelkader said. “It will be tough on the majority of guys.”
The Wings face another tough situation heading into this abbreviated season. The absence of captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who retired following last season.
“That is going to be tough, even though I only played with him a few years,” Abdelkader said. “He was part of the organization for 20 years, he was the captain and the leader. What he brought to our defense is irreplaceable.
“But, we do have a lot of good leadership on the team and the guys will have to come together.
Reportedly, Henrik Zetterberg will assume the duties of captain, but Abdelkader said he’s heard nothing official on that.
There’s one more detail that Abdelkader has been thinking about – the new four-year contract that he signed just days before the start of the lockout.
The deal is worth a reported $7.2 million over the next four years with $1.4 million this season, $1.55 million next season, $2 million the following year and $2.25 million in the final year of the deal.
“I did sign that in early September,” said Abdelkader, who isn’t sure when his paychecks will start coming, but that’s not his big concern at the present time.
“Right now, I’m just looking forward to getting things going and seeing more of the guys come in,” Abdelkader said. “It will be exciting to get all the guys back together.”