Maple Leafs' Grabovski frustrated by lockout

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:28 AM ET

TORONTO - Mikhail Grabovski motioned over his shoulder early on Tuesday afternoon toward the ice surface at the MasterCard Centre and just about summed up what he and his Maple Leafs teammates are thinking.

“A practice like that,” Grabovski said after the informal workout, “I don’t have any fun. You practise, for what? You don’t know when (the NHL lockout will end). I just want to know where I’m going to play this year.”

Grabovski indicated he will be heading to his off-season home in Belarus on Monday and, though he has not signed a contract yet, eventually will be playing for Dinamo Minsk of the KHL.

While there is speculation the lockout will end in time for NBC’s first game on Nov. 23, and if not, then for the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, what’s true is that no one knows when it will be over.

For Matthew Lombardi, the notion that he will miss almost another season nearly is too much to bear. The Leafs forward played in just two games in 2010-11 because of a concussion, and in 2004-05, when the lockout killed the NHL season, a concussion limited him to just nine games for Lowell, the Calgary Flames’ AHL affiliate at the time.

“You know what, it is unbelievable,” Lombardi said. “I couldn’t imagine going through two of these and missing that year with my concussion. It is a lot of hockey missed.

“The average career is not too long … I try to look at the positives and not worry about how much hockey I have missed, and look forward to when we will be playing and stay healthy.”

Training camps are scheduled to open Friday, with the Leafs’ first pre-season game slated for Monday. Barring a miracle, neither will happen. If the players get notice from NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr that no resolution is in sight, the expectation is many of them will return to their off-season homes this weekend or early next week.

“We know it is a process and we have to be patient,” Lombardi said. “I think guys know that, but at the same time, with all the positive that has happened over the last few years in hockey, and the growth of the game, to end up here is definitely frustrating.”

EASIER TO PLAY IN THE NHL: GARDINER

Jake Gardiner figured he will have to guard against the possibility of developing bad habits with the Toronto Marlies.

The 22-year-old defenceman last season was named to the NHL’s all-rookie team and knows he will be taking a step down when he suits up in the AHL during the lockout.

“Sometimes it’s easier to play in the NHL than the AHL,” Gardiner said. “Everyone thinks the game well (in the AHL), but it’s just not the same level as the NHL. It’s totally different. It’s more of a run-and-gun style.”

Gardiner got a taste of the AHL during the Calder Cup playoffs last spring, when he joined the Marlies following the Leafs’ season.

Other NHL players who will play in the AHL as long as there is a lockout are Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Jeff Skinner and Adam Henrique. Players of those calibre should make the AHL more competitive.

“It’s just nice to be still playing hockey,” Gardiner said. “I never really set goals. I just want to keep improving.”

The Marlies open training camp on Sept. 28.


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