NHL infrastructure showing signs of life

NEW YORK -- Like a rusted-out robot left to decay in a back lot in a bad science fiction movie, the NHL is starting to show the first, shuddering signs of reanimation.

Yes, the resumption of hockey is not guaranteed simply because the NHL and its players continue to discuss the league’s latest and most comprehensive proposal in New York City with a face-to-face question-and-answer session on Sunday morning, with negotiations hopeful within the next day or so. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that with a deadline looming to play even a 48-game schedule that there are preparatory signs of life.

For instance, from the time the NHL made a proposal in November that would have seen a full 82-game schedule played, the league’s scheduling guru, Steve Hatze Petros, has been constantly working on truncated schedules based on the moving target of a potential start date.

As part of the league’s proposal of earlier this week, it’s believed a start date of Jan. 19 is the last possible date the league imagines for a 48-game schedule. Commissioner Gary Bettman indicated he doesn’t believe playing fewer games would allow the integrity the league needs for a partial season.

That deadline does not indicate that is when the league is hoping games will start. The sooner a deal gets done, the more games can be scheduled, which means there are various models for various start dates floating about. In other words, when a deal is done, there will be a schedule to fit.

Regardless of when a season might start, a source told ESPN.com Sunday that none of the scheduling models at this stage involve games outside of the conferences. During the 48-game lockout-shortened 1995 season, teams likewise played only teams in their conference.

As for on-ice officials, who are among the forgotten casualties of this lockout given that they do not receive any pay and agreed at the outset of the lockout not to take jobs in other leagues, they had contact with league officials a few weeks ago when the league was hopeful of a Jan. 1 start to the regular season.

Although there hasn’t been contact since, it’s expected the officials would have a brief mini-camp, perhaps two days, as a kind of refresher to go over materials covered at the officials’ weeklong camp held in September before the lockout began.

The officials have been receiving weekly emails going over materials covered in September and they have also kept up with a regular weekly rules quiz during the lockout.

“The guys will be ready to go,” Brian Murphy, head of the NHL Officials Association, told ESPN.com.

On another front, senior vice president of hockey operations Mike Murphy and the hockey operations staff have been working with the information technology personnel at the NHL’s 30 rinks during the lockout to upgrade technology infrastructure. This dates back to last season’s clock kerfuffle at the Staples Center that allowed the Kings to score a tying goal after time had officially run out in a game against Columbus. The technology upgrades will, among other things, allow better, quicker video access to the NHL’s so-called war room in Toronto of various feeds from the rinks. Had the season started on time in October, the upgrades would have been ongoing through the season. With the lockout, all upgrades should be in place for the start of a truncated season, a league source said Sunday. A memo to that effect recently went out to NHL arena technology staff.