Officials suspend talks after not coming to an agreement Thursday

The endless summer continues for the National Hockey League.

A meltdown between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association on Thursday evening has yet again led to a suspension in official talks between the two sides. A lockout that started way back on Sept. 15 showed no signs of ending entering the weekend.

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr held a news conference in New York and said the two sides were close to a deal. About an hour later, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly vehemently disputed that in their own news conference. About an hour after that, fans attending the AHL Showcase at Verizon Center -- a minor league game between the Hershey Bears and Norfolk Admirals that drew approximately 12,000 fans -- started a "Fire Bettman" chant.

The void leaves players and coaches, normally creatures of habit during a season, adrift. Some, like Capitals stars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, are playing in Europe. Teammate Jason Chimera tried that last month and lasted just five games in the Czech Republic before realizing that he missed his family.

Caps goalie Braden Holtby should be playing in the NHL. Instead, he's still riding the buses in the minors. On Thursday he returned to his old locker room with his Hershey teammates in the building where Holtby drew so many cheers for his playoff performance last spring. Now? He can only wait and hope -- no different than a fan, really, and just as desperate for the NHL to return.

"At the start I was following it fairly closely," Holtby said. "Once it seemed to be negative news after negative news I kind of just stopped because I was worrying too much about it."

Told after a 2-1 win that negotiations had hit a snag yet again, Holtby, still wearing his goalie gear and the construction hard hat awarded to the night's top performer, offered only a wry smile. There was nothing really to say. He soon was back on the road to Hershey and eventually on to Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where his team had a game on Friday night. For now the grind of a minor league season passes the time.

Not so for Caps coach Adam Oates, hired this summer and still waiting for his first chance behind an NHL bench. He spent most of October and November as co-coach in Hershey to gain some experience and help install the systems he wanted it to play. Seeing his organization's AHL affiliate play in his home arena was novel but did little to change anything for Oates. He, too, can only wait.

"It's been like that every day. This is our normal routine, and we're all routine people," Oates said. "We're all used to it. You have a reason to get up. It's like 'Now, what do we do?' It's the same for everybody. Everybody goes through it, every industry has have gone through it. It's part of life."