The list of benefits provided by the NHL lockout is about as short as Gary Bettman, the league's vertically challenged commissioner.
One of the few is the rest provided to players who have dealt with injuries or general wear-and-tear throughout their careers.
Brooks Orpik is one of those players. Having missed games over the past two seasons for injuries as relatively minor as a broken finger to more complex ailments such as a hernia, the past three months of downtime has spared Orpik the typical abuse he experiences as a physical defenseman who typically logs in excess of 20 minutes a game, much of it blocking shots and battling in the high traffic areas on the ice.
Recently, Orpik spoke about the lockout and where he is physically.
Is there any benefit from lockout in that it spares you some wear and tear?
"Yeah. I guess you could never have enough rest in that sense and allow your body to heal and stuff like that. I guess I was just happy to have a surgery-free summer. I think I rushed myself a little bit from those two surgeries (in the 2010 and 2011 offseasons). It took me about a year to … completely feel back to normal. In the other sense, I think it’s just tough. I think we’re doing a good job here (informal practices at Iceoplex) at simulating game-like situations. The longer your layoff is, it’s tougher to simulate the speed of the game, which even when you try to do that, it’s always different. The longer you’re off off, that’s the one downfall. There’s always a plus and minus to every situation."
After last season, you expressed satisfaction in going into an offseason healthy for the first time in several years. What were you able to do this summer that you weren't able to do in the 2011 offseason?
"The previous summer, it was really just rehab. I didn’t really work out. Conditioning wasn’t very good. My strength took a big hit. I think just the way I play, my conditioning and strength-training is a huge part of it. I didn’t feel like I had any power last year. I remember doing rehab the last couple of summers, I was doing stuff that seems silly with the lack of strength I had the last couple of summers. The conditioning part was a big part. That’s the disappointing part about having a lockout. You thought, wow, had a good summer working out. Mentally, I think that’s been the biggest challenge now. Trying to maintain that throughout this period and maintain what you’ve gained throughout the summer. It’s tough trying to find different ways to motivate yourself when you don’t have that end date in sight. It’s easy with normal summers. I’ve got to be ready for Sept. 20 or whenever camp opens. It’s easy to build up to that date. Now, some days … sometimes you question, ‘What am I doing this for? When am I actually going to apply what I’m doing here?’”
The strength issue, was it a season-long problem or did it only last a few months after the surgery?
"It’s season-long. The way we’re set up now (with the schedule), you make all your gains in the summer and you just try to maintain that during the season. Once you get going in the season, you’re not really making any gains strength-wise or conditioning-wise. You’re playing so much and practicing so much, it’s tough to work on your conditioning and speed in season. That was something I struggled with throughout the year. I think you try to find ways to compensate for those deficiencies and that takes away from other things. You dig yourself a hole. Injuries are something everyone deals with it. You definitely learn from it."
What parts of your game were impacted by the lack of strength?
"I think a lot of different areas. Battling. Even just skating. I rely a lot on my skating ability. A lot of that comes from your leg strength, your core strength. It’s frustrating sometimes that you don’t feel like you have that burst or that first step isn’t there. The power you usually have. I think that becomes frustrating for an athlete. You’re used to having a certain level and if you can do what you normally do, it becomes very frustrating. I was lucky enough to have the surgery in the summer rather during the season so I didn’t really have to miss (many) games but I just wasn’t really at the level I wanted to be at."
If there is an NHL season and it's approximately 48 games long as it was during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 campaign, how different will the physical demands be compared to a normal 82-game season?
"It’s tough to predict. I know if you look at regular seasons in the past, the beginning, games might not be as sharp as they are later, but in terms of energy and physicality, that’s always there. There’s always so much initial momentum and energy. Then you’ll kind of hit areas of the season where you’re just trying to get through certain parts of the schedule that are a little more difficult. I guess it would be interesting to talk to those guys that went through that in 1994-95 when they played the 48 games. I don’t remember specifically how those guys dealt with it or how intense those games were. I’ve seen a couple guys recently talk about it and they said obviously the intensity is so much greater. When you play 80 games, if you lose a game here or there, sometimes you have time to make that ground up. A bad streak (with 48 games), maybe you’re screwed. I’ve never been through that. I imagine it would be similar to that."
(Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)