BRANDON — All seemed as it should be Tuesday at the Ice Sports Forum.
Lightning players, who have assembled for informal workouts before training camp, conducted passing and shooting drills and played five-on-five while coach Guy Boucher watched intently from a balcony overlooking the ice.
"We're getting prepared," Boucher said, "for a normal camp."
Tampa Bay players are supposed to report Sept. 21. But with the NHL threatening a lockout Sunday if a new collective bargaining agreement is not in place, the question is when, or if, camp will begin.
And that has Boucher planning for the abnormal.
"You've got Plan B, Plan C and all of a sudden we're down to D and E," he said. "If it's not normal, at least everything has been done."
It's different for players, whose routines so far have not changed.
Tough summer off-ice workouts have morphed into hybrid plans that include 60- to 90-minute skates with teammates and, as right wing Adam Hall undertook, pushing a sled full of weights over a carpeted area overlooking the ice.
But underneath the sweaty jerseys and aching muscles, there is a sense of futility, star center Steven Stamkos said, as negotiations between the owners and Players' Association are stalled.
"It's definitely tough, especially when you don't make the playoffs," Stamkos said, referencing last season's failure. "You train for a long time and you're reading and hearing that there might be a lockout. You have to push through it and tell yourself it might start (on time) so you've got to go."
"It's been a weird summer in that sense," defenseman Matt Carle said, and added about the negotiations, "Just because we're all in shape and prepared for the season doesn't mean we'll give in. We want a fair deal for both sides."
This is an important week for the talks that have been unable to figure out how to divide $3.3 billion in league revenues.
Owners, whose latest proposal cut the players' share from 57 to 46 percent, will meet Thursday in New York for an update from commissioner Gary Bettman and to reiterate his ability to lock out the players.
Between 200 and 300 players — including Carle, Hall, center Nate Thompson, goaltender Mathieu Garon and defensemen Marc-Andre Bergeron and Brian Lee from the Lightning — are expected in New York for union meetings today and Thursday. Before today's union meeting, players and owners scheduled a new negotiating session.
"Every player is getting ready like we're starting on time," said right wing B.J. Crombeen, a member of the union's negotiating committee. "That's still the goal and I think it's something that we can do."
Meanwhile, there are questions.
"Will we get any exhibition games? Will we not?" Boucher said. "How much practice time? How many guys will we bring in? It's a moving target. You have to keep reacting."
"Hopefully, we solve this situation," Bergeron said. "Let's solve it. Let's all be happy."
Call that Plan A.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]