Brandonite Brett Skinner has NHL, AHL and European experience, but he’s still without a team as hockey season gets underway.
Professional hockey players have gotten used to fighting for their jobs since the day they laced up their skates for their first training camp.
When the competition includes the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Joe Thornton, however, it hardly seems like a fair fight.
During the National Hockey League lockout, the players feeling the biggest pinch are the journeyman pros who are finding it harder to line up work as the American Hockey League gets ready for an influx of young up-and-coming NHL talent, while European teams welcome the locked out big-leaguers with open arms.
"It’s a trickle-down effect," said Ashton Rome, a 26-year-old AHL veteran from Nesbitt who helped the Hershey Bears win the Calder Cup championship in 2010. "The NHL guys go down to the (AHL) or they go over to Europe, and then guys from the ‘A" go down to the (ECHL), so it has an effect on every league. I was looking to go over to Europe and a lot of teams are holding off on signing guys because they’re hoping the NHL guys will come over."
With Europe out of the picture at the moment, Rome turned his attention to the ECHL and agreed to terms Monday on a one-year deal with the Greenville Road Warriors.
While Rome has finally found work, 29-year-old Brandonite Brett Skinner is still looking for a home this season, despite a resume that includes stints in the NHL and Europe’s top professional leagues.
"As it was explained to me, it’s simple economics," Skinner said. "It’s a buyer’s market and there’s a ton of guys available, so I think a lot of teams have taken a wait-and-see approach to things. I think as far as I stand, it kind of puts you in the same situation where you just have to be patient."
Millionaire NHLers could more easily survive a season without pay than their less established counterparts, but Skinner and Rome both know the nature of professional sport is that teams will always try put their uniform on the best available players.
"I don’t hold it against anybody," Rome said of the NHLers signing in Europe. "They put themselves in the position that they’re in. They’re obviously getting jobs because of hard work and the things they’ve done over their career. It’s just the way it goes."
In the tight fraternity of pro hockey, Skinner suggests it would be almost hypocritical to hold ill will towards the locked out players.
"You definitely don’t blame those players for going over," he said. "It’s not like they’re on strike and then they’re going over. I mean, they were locked out and they have every right to do that. In a situation like this, as much as it can be frustrating for me, if they knock me down a little bit (to a lower level of hockey), I may very well go and take someone else’s job and the further you get down the chain … it might knock some people out of hockey for good. Luckily, I feel like I’m in a situation where I still will probably have some options as the year goes on. But for everyone affected, it just is not a good situation."
Skinner and a handful of local pros spent a couple of weeks skating with the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings to stay sharp, and he said there may be a silver lining to the delay as it’s given him some extra time to recover from injuries that bothered him at the end of last season.
Similarly, fellow Brandonite Brock Trotter — another unsigned pro — could also benefit from the break. The
25-year-old Trotter said all along that his priority was to focus on rehabbing injuries that have nagged him over the past two seasons rather than sign as quickly as possible. But he added the lockout could actually open up jobs down the road when, and if, the situation is resolved.
"If I’m ready to go before Christmas, and then all of a sudden (the lockout ends and) there’s a bunch of free spots over in Europe, it would end up probably working out in my benefit," he said. "But it’s too early to tell what’s going to transpire. Obviously, you don’t want the lockout. It just sucks for hockey."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 25, 2012