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Players prepare as CBA deadline nears

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton, AB - On Muse's third studio album, 'Absolution,' released back in 2003, there's a catchy track titled 'Time is Running Out.' Surely the attending media were humming it as a large group of Oilers skated for nearly 90 minutes Friday at the Kinsmen Twin Arenas.

No? Just me? Well, it's a great song. And it's certainly appropriate under the circumstances, considering the NHL/NHLPA's Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire Saturday at 10:00pm MT. If a deal can't be reached by then, and it's grim to suggest there could be, another lockout will commence.

"When you get into a lockout situation, it sucks," said Oilers defenceman Nick Schultz, who participated in the NHLPA player meetings this past week in New York. Sam Gagner, Shawn Horcoff, Eric Belanger and Ryan Whitney also represented the orange and blue.

"You knew it was going to be a long time (in 2004-05). Guys are working hard right now; our staff is working hard to get a deal done. The game has grown so much since the last CBA, so there's a deal to be made."

While Schultz is optimistic that a lockout won't last too long, he agrees the sides need to get back to the bargaining table to ensure games won't be missed -- and, more importantly, that the season in its entirety won't be lost like it was eight years ago.

"We're there to a certain point," he said, "but there are other aspects in how it gets done that need to be worked out. It's something where you've got to get to the table, sit down and get a deal done."

Schultz, 30, isn't sure where he'll end up if the Oilers don't get going on Oct. 13 in Vancouver. But while he sits in limbo, others have a better idea. Justin Schultz, Magnus Paajarvi and Anton Lander were also present Friday, and they're eager to get back in action with the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons.

For Schultz, it will be a stepstool to the NHL as he gets his feet wet at the pro level.

"It's exciting regardless of where I'm going to be," said the 22-year-old, who'd spent the previous three seasons with the WCHA's University of Wisconsin Badgers. "I'd like to be up here but it's another step [in my career] to be playing in Oklahoma. I'm excited to get down there and play.

"It's a tough league. I know guys that have played there and they've told me how tough it us, and how good of players are there, too. It's going to be a challenge but I'm ready to get there and show them my stuff."

Just as it did in 2004-05, the AHL will become even tougher due to stacked rosters. NHL clubs bolstered their lineups with eligible young talent, and it's going to be a popular move yet again. Along with Schultz and including the Swedes, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle may also become Barons within the next couple days.

"I want to play hockey," Eberle said with a laugh. "I want to go somewhere and play, whether it's the AHL or wherever, I'm going to make the decision that's best for me. Ultimately I want to play for the Oilers.

"The Oilers haven't really expressed where they want me to go. I'm going to take it day-by-day and wait this out. Even if I go to the American League, there are a couple weeks until camp starts. The AHL's not a bad league; Europe's not a bad league. There are places to go play, so there are options."

Last year, both Paajarvi and Lander began the 2011-12 campaign in Edmonton. By season's end, both were stationed in Oklahoma City and were pivotal cogs in the Barons' deep post-season run.

"Right now it seems like I'll be playing in OKC," said Paajarvi, who collected a two goals and 11 points during the club's 14-game playoff drive. "That's a positive. It could be a real good team down there, too."

No. 91 (although he wears 16 in OKC) had a tough start to his sophomore NHL season. He went 34 games without a goal, eventually cracking the goose egg on Feb. 11 in Ottawa. It certainly wasn't a season to remember, but Paajarvi believes it's a one-off and that he's prepared to put it all behind him.

"I learned a lot last year," noting the up-and-down split between Edmonton and Oklahoma City. "It was the first year in my career where things didn't really go my way. I felt like I had a really good playoff run down there. It was a good experience for me and I developed a lot. I'm a way different person now compared to last year. As a player, likewise, but mentally I'm way stronger.

"I've come to camp physically ready every year. This year I've done the same thing, but I've tried to build a little more upper-body (strength) to be stronger in the corners and in front of the net. I want to play a little more greasy like I did in OKC."

With a renewed mindset, he's disappointed that he couldn't swing into Rexall Place and begin his quest to prove that he belongs in the NHL.

"For sure. I want camp to start right now."

Lander sees it the same. Still, entering his second pro season, another stint in OKC can be considered a good thing.

"We had a really good team last year," he said. "If we're going to have the team that I think we're going to have in OKC this year, it's a great group of guys and great players. I'm very excited to see what we can do.

"It's going to be a great league. It's going to be fun. Every game is tough and that's the way you want it to be."

-- Ryan Dittrick, | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick

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