Cold as Ice

Just when all seemed lost for the NHL and it appeared the entire 2012-13 season would be scrapped, last Sunday morning brought the surprising news that the league’s owners and the players’ union had reached a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement.

The deal still has to be ratified by both sides. The owners voted unanimously to approve it on Wednesday, and Thursday night the players began a 36-hour process of electronic voting on their end. If a majority of the NHL’s 700+ players approve the deal, teams will open weeklong training camps on Sunday and a 48-game season will reportedly start on Jan. 19 and run into May. The league won’t release the abbreviated schedule until the CBA is ratified.

Yeah, it sucks that we had to put up with four months of this posturing between millionaires and billionaires, and that more than 500 games and the Winter Classic were lost in the process. But ultimately, I’m a hockey fan and a 48-game season is better than no hockey at all, the fate that fans suffered in 2004-05 when the entire season was wiped out by legal strife. The previous lockout in 1994-95 was similarly resolved in January 1995 and resulted in a 48-game season. (Putting aside the fact, of course, that three lockouts in 20 years is out-and-out ludicrous and inexcusable.)

No doubt the league and its teams and players will be doing a massive amount of ass-kissing to get back in the fans’ good graces again. It’ll be interesting to see just how many fans come back. Certainly in the large markets (Toronto, Montreal, New York, Detroit, Chicago, Boston), the arenas will be packed, but I wonder how many folks in places like Phoenix, Florida and Anaheim will flock back to see their teams. The NBA went through a similar situation last season and it’s as popular as ever.

Although many players went to Europe to play until the lockout was resolved, many more just stayed home and trained on their own or with local teams. I’m guessing a new stat to track will be the number of groin and hamstring pulls in the first week of the new season; there will be many of them. You can’t just go from relative inactivity to NHL action in the matter of a few weeks without your body paying the price in some fashion.

The new CBA is a 10-year deal, splits hockey-related revenue on a 50-50 basis between players and owners (as opposed to the previous 57-43 split), the salary cap next season will grow to $64 million and there will be increased revenue sharing.

I’ve been pretty down on both sides as this thing dragged on, but especially the league and owners. Ultimately, I’m a hockey fan and this is the best hockey there is, so I’m glad they’re back. Am I pissed about what went on the last several months? Damn right. But I’m ready to see some hockey.

Of course, the down side of that is I’m a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. The Leafs are the only team in the NHL that hasn’t played a playoff game since the last lockout ended, and on Wednesday, Toronto ownership shocked the hockey world by firing colorful GM Brian Burke. The reason given was the team’s failure to field a playoff team in Burke’s four-year tenure, despite his braggadocio and penchant for making big trades. Rumors had been flying during the offseason that the Leafs would trade for Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo, despite the fact he has a cumbersome 10 years remaining on his contract. The Canucks appear ready to hand the reins over to young Cory Schneider, making Luongo expendable. Will Burke’s replacement in Toronto, Dave Nonis, trade for Luongo? The former Vancouver GM brought Luongo to the Canucks in a trade with Florida in 2006. Whether he trades for Luongo again remains to be seen. Whatever the case, the Leafs probably will go at least one more season without seeing playoff action.

There should be a whirlwind of activity next week as teams firm up their rosters. We’ll be back next week to preview what should be a very interesting season. Drop the puck!

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