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A fan holds up a sign as Team WHL and Team Russia play during the third period in game 5 of the CHL Subway Super Series in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday November 14, 2012 (The Canadian Press)

A fan holds up a sign as Team WHL and Team Russia play during the third period in game 5 of the CHL Subway Super Series in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday November 14, 2012

(The Canadian Press)

Duhatschek: Welcome to the half-way point of the NHL lockout Add to ...

In short, this is unknown territory, with all new players on the NHLPA side. Generally, in every sort of negotiation such as this, there is some ebb and flow. Momentum builds and then stalls. Optimism ran high about two weeks ago and now pessimism reigns supreme.

About the only thing I’m prepared to venture is that the drop-dead date to play games in 2012-13 is still two months or more away. That means there will be at least two more opportunities for the sides to get closer and see if they can’t finally bridge that gap. You’d think there would be urgency now, but you’d be wrong. With lawyers and accountants in charge, the real urgency doesn’t start until the clock is five minutes from midnight and the end is in sight. So hang on to your hats, because realistically, they are just at the half way point now – two months into the lockout, with another two months remaining to save a fraction of the 2012-13 season - and maybe the industry’s future as well.

THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT: When the Calgary Flames let Brent Sutter go this summer, replacing him behind the bench with Bob Hartley, who would have thought that Sutter would be coaching again before anyone else in the NHL? But it happened this week, when the team he owns and manages, the Western Hockey League’s Red Deer Rebels, fired coach Jesse Wallin after a 10-11-1-1 start and Sutter installed himself back behind the bench. Red Deer likely would have been a different team this year if the Edmonton Oilers had wanted to keep Ryan Nugent-Hopkins closer to home. The Calder Trophy runner-up in 2012 still had junior eligibility left, but he is playing at the moment for the Oilers’ AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City … Usually, on the Sunday of Hall of Fame weekend, I get together over dinner with Lanny McDonald to catch up. This year, McDonald had a better offer, and had an informal reunion with ex-Leafs Borje Salming, Darryl Sittler, Tiger Williams and their spouses. A riotous night, McDonald tells me … You never know what to make of injuries that occur to locked-out NHLers playing elsewhere in order to stay sharp. The fact is, they happen, just as they might happen in the NHL, if play was under way. The Red Wings’ Valtteri Filppula, or example, sprained his right knee playing for Jokerit and Finland and will miss up to eight weeks, which probably gives him enough time to heal, if the NHL ever does play this season. The same cannot be said for the Ottawa Senators’ young defenceman Jared Cowen, who is scheduled to undergo hip surgery on Saturday and is out for the season. Cowen is just 21 and played all 82 games for Ottawa last season, and was an underrated factor on their 92-point playoff team.

AND FINALLLY: Arguably the most interesting injury news came via the Chicago Tribune this past week, when the Blackhawks’ most outspoken critic of Bettman, team captain Jonathan Toews, reported that he is only now fully recovered from a concussion that caused him to miss two months of action last season, even though he was deemed healthy enough to participate in the playoffs.

According to the Tribune report, Toews was symptom-free and had cleared all NHL concussion protocols prior to his return, but he wasn’t feeling 100 per cent until he visited the same Atlanta-based team of chiropractors and neurologists that treated Crosby for his concussion symptoms as well. Toews explained it to the paper this way: "Even if you don't feel something and you think you're symptom-free, there's probably still something there that's kind of hindering you and affecting the way your brain works. It was just a lot of eye-movement things. My eyes didn't track very well. They didn't look from one target to the next very well. My balance with my eyes closed and my head turned a certain way was terrible. (There were) little things that I would think were normal because I didn't feel something in my head.”

Sheesh. Doesn’t sound very good, does it?

Toews incidentally said that he will now consider playing opportunities in Europe, if the lockout stalemate continues. His Blackhawks’ teammate, Patrick Kane, has already been cavorting in Switzerland for more than a month now.

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