Cam Barker is a defenceman for the Medicine Hat Tigers in the Western Hockey League and watched with great interest when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman cancelled the 2004-05 season Wednesday.
Great interest and great frustration.
"It doesn't affect me this season, but next year it could have an impact on my career," the 3rd overall pick (Chicago) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft said from Medicine Hat yesterday. "It's definitely a goal of mine to play in the NHL, but in all likelihood now, I'll for sure be playing here next year."
Which might be the simplest of equations for the Winnipeg product.
Barker hasn't signed a contract with the Blackhawks yet and said he hasn't talked to anyone from Chicago since the NHL closed up shop.
The only communication he has is with his agent Larry Kelly, but the defenceman admitted even he doesn't know what's going to happen.
"A lot of guys who aren't signed don't really know what's going on," Barker said. "No one knows what the rules are or what they will be in the future, so everything is on hold.
"This whole thing is just a mess."
The world junior gold medallist is fortunate in one regard, that he wasn't drafted in 2003.
Under the parameters of the old CBA, those players who have not signed contracts with teams that hold their rights from that draft have until June 1 to sign, or they go back into the 2005 draft.
A category into which WHL leading scorer (and Washington Capitals draft selection) Eric Fehr falls into.
"Everyone is trying to figure out if we will be free agents after this season," the Brandon Wheat Kings forward said. "We might be able to still sign with our club, who knows?"
The Winkler product has 43 goals and 77 points this season and is extremely frustrated with what has (or hasn't) transpired this week.
Fehr said with so much confusion, NHL clubs haven't exactly been rushing out to sign their prospects, either.
"You're one step away from making another tryout camp with an NHL team and at a time like this it's just critical," he said.
"Now I might end up back in the draft."
Not that there's going to be one this year.
The 2005 draft was supposed to be in Ottawa this summer and while Bettman hasn't come out and said it will be cancelled, a lot of potential draftees -- including consensus No. 1 Sidney Crosby -- are already peering into their crystal balls.
ALL KINDS OF OPTIONS
Perhaps a European vacation for Crosby might be in order.
"There are all kinds of options open to me after this is done, not just the NHL," he told the Canadian Press on Wednesday.
For others, who knows what the future holds.
Though very cautious about his chances (he doesn't want to jinx it), Wheat Kings goaltender Tyler Plante was looking forward to being drafted this summer, too.
"Every kid dreams about getting drafted, and I'm not going to lie, I've dreamt about it my whole life," the Brandon-native said, as unsure as Barker and Fehr of what will happen this summer. "Things have changed, but I'm not going to worry about it.
"I'm more worried about stopping the puck now."