The first -- and worst -- big NHL story of 2013 is over and done with: the end of the lockout.
Now it's time for the league to figure out the logistics of a shortened season, and to make a real effort to reconnect with its fans.
The first -- and worst -- big NHL story of 2013 is over and done with: the end of the lockout. Now, we get ready for number two: the reaction of the fans.
The media, the teams, the sponsors have all guessed at your willingness to re-embrace the league. The key word is "guess." We don't know, but we suspect that if your team is good, you're going to be back in a big, big way. If you're Canadian, quality of play is assumed to not matter.
Like many hockey reporters, I'm a big fan, too. Those of us camped out in Manhattan last week spent time staying warm in the NHL store adjacent to the league's offices. If you've ever been there, you know it's high-quality stuff.
Guaranteed, under normal circumstances, I buy something. This time, never considered it. There was too much of a distaste in my throat. Now that the lockout's over, I can't wait until our first Hockey Night in Canada broadcast.
A lot of you, I'd bet, feel similarly.
It's better for our show (and the CBC) if you come back as passionately as ever. That goes for every broadcaster, team and the league. But it's also better for the sport if you demand respect.
The cycle of lockouts must end. As the NHL and NHLPA peel themselves off the iceberg, only two groups of people from outside can really affect change: the sponsors and the fans.
Sponsors, angered by this muck, got a long-term CBA that eventually will benefit both sides. What do fans want? That's up to you. Baseball's fans made it very clear another strike would not be tolerated in 2002. That sport's owners and players rushed to a last-second settlement because of it.
I've suggested here (and on radio) that anyone who wants it should receive the Centre Ice cable TV package free for the rest of the season.
Teams and players clearly are committed to saying the right things about fans in the aftermath of the lunacy. More than words, I hope the NHL, NHLPA and individual teams make a serious effort to come up with creative ideas to make their customers happy aside from, you know, playing.
The Ottawa Citizen reported the Senators asked their season-ticket holders about "potential inducements" several weeks ago. Every fan -- not just Ottawa's -- should make their opinion known.
1. Here's the wording of the league memo we tweeted Sunday night: depending on ratification (by both sides), "We anticipate that Training Camps will open sometime between Saturday, Jan. 12 and Monday, Jan. 14. We are hoping that we will be in a position to commence a 48-game NHL regular season beginning on Saturday, Jan. 19. (All of these dates remain tentative at this point.)" ESPN's Pierre LeBrun reported Jan. 15 is still a possibility for the season to start. Seems unlikely if it wasn't in the memo to teams, but the NHL may try to advance the process. My only issue? I'll look like a dolt.
2. Exhibition games: initially heard players wanted one, while the league considered the idea worse than a plague outbreak. Later, heard players cooled to the idea, but coaches and GMs liked it. We'll see, I guess. I'm against rushing to start if it prevents injuries, so I'd support an exhibition game for the same reason -- as long as fans get in free.
3. Hearing there will be no out-of-conference travel in this shortened season. So, simple logic dictates a 48-game schedule looks like this: Three games against the 10 teams not in your division. Against the four teams in your grouping, you play two of them five times each (three at home, two on the road against one and vice versa with the other) and the other two four times each. That's 30 non-divisional games and 18 internal ones.
4. The league and players have to agree on something called "game density," or how often a team can play. With the decreased travel of an intraconference schedule, and the fact there tend to be more games during this time of year in normal seasons anyway, things should work out alright. There were several reports of an April 5 trade deadline, which means the regular season probably ends in the last few days of that month.
5. There is another reason players (and some teams) would want a delay before the season starts: a nice little free-agency period. I can see how the league would want zero part of that, just like it cringed when there was a wild spending spree right before the lockout. There's not anything UFA-ish that looks crazy, but there are some interesting scenarios.
6. Does Anaheim, for example, pursue immediate extensions with free-agents-to-be Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry? Not cheap. You'll remember that in 2005, 21-year-old Rick Nash signed a five-year, $27 million US extension right out of the lockout. There are three good, young RFAs who must be dealt with quickly -- Jamie Benn, Ryan O'Reilly and P.K. Subban. All three had difficult negotiations with their teams. An offer sheet would put the NHL world on its ear, but does anyone believe the Stars, Avalanche or Canadiens would actually let one of them go?
7. I haven't seen it and don't know much about it, but apparently it exists: a list of Canadian Hockey League players who will be allowed to leave their teams to attend NHL camps.
8. Was asked Sunday if signing bonuses were eliminated as part of the new CBA. Answer is no. As far as the NHL is concerned, the new "variance" rule was enough. In a multi-year contract, that's a maximum 35 per cent salary drop from year to year, and a maximum 50 per cent difference between lowest- and highest-paid seasons.
9. The Saturday night/Sunday morning pension negotiation was settled at 4:30 am in New York. Forty minutes later, news of a deal arrived.
10. Second-best lockout quote: One source, hours after announcement of tentative CBA: "Thank &%$# everyone came to their senses."
11. Best lockout quote: Brad Boyes's parents (two great people) texted him after he attended a mediation session: "Saw you on TV... time for a haircut."
12. Remember this story on Fatigue Science and the sleep experts hired by the Canucks to optimize the team's travel? Well, Vancouver signed a contract with the company that prevents it from working with any other team. Other leagues? No problem. NHL? No sale.
13. Don't want to do a ton of lockout stuff, but thought it was telling to see how much the word "embarrassing" or "embarrassed" was seen after Lou Lamoriello used it in describing the shutdown to The Newark Star-Ledger. Heard it from both Eric Staal and Andy McDonald. Almost as if others felt more free to be honest after someone of Lamoriello's stature did it.
14. One executive had a great point about his lockout worry: "Are we going to lose a kid like Seth Jones?" Really made me think. His argument was that the sport is finally appealing to kids like Jones, not to mention so many others from non-traditional hockey states. Will the stoppage lead them to change the channel and try something else?
15. World juniors: watched much less than normal because of Stakeout Week in Manhattan. Did touch base with a few people to get feedback on some players you guys may be curious about. The first was Team USA netminder -- and tournament MVP -- John Gibson. "I told him beforehand that the rink was different. He would have to be focused and dialed in," said Anaheim goalie consultant Pete Peeters. "Obviously, he did that."
16. Gibson is a Ducks prospect. They also have Igor Bobkov, with a world junior gold of his own, and Frederik Andersen, eighth in the AHL in save percentage. Asked Peeters how Gibson compared and he gave an interesting answer. "Goalies trick you," he said. "You go to a tournament and they get hot... That's where teams make mistakes. You have to let them go through the process, give them time to mature and have success year-in and year-out."
17. Peeters added he needs to see Gibson against professionals. "If all of sudden, John turns out to be a 'Wow!' then he'll be a 'Wow!'" Two guys who did that at a young age, he said, were Carey Price and Cam Ward. Peeters's son, Trevor, backed up Ward for one year with the Red Deer Rebels. But don't think Peeters is down on Gibson. He loves the MVP's athleticism and believes strongly in goalies having that skill.
18. Mike Milbury on John Gaudreau: "He's Datsyukian." Gaudreau's got a lot of fans who hope he can take those skills to the next level.
19. The other Americans who impressed were Jones, who "looked like a confident veteran" after a nervous start, and Jacob Trouba, who may have set a record for man-crushes at this event. The scout quoted on Jones said Trouba "added poise and efficient transition game to his in-your-face regular abrasive style."
20. One final U.S. player: Rocco Grimaldi. He might have been winning coach Phil Housley's greatest success. A person who knows Grimaldi well said the kid "put a lot of pressure on himself... one of the last cuts two years ago and he missed last year with an injury." When he was not able to produce early on "it affected his overall team game. His ultra-competitive nature got the better of him and it had to be reined in." Housley did that, then built him back up for the gold-medal game, where Grimaldi scored twice in the final.
21. Team Canada: Don't like to kick people when they are down, and those were painful defeats for the Canadians. Appraisals were fair and honest. A consistent No. 1 item on that list was that, aside from Morgan Rielly and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins "most guys were ghosts of who they are/who they should be," one NHL scout said.
22. Scouts felt Dougie Hamilton had trouble keeping up with the "pace and expectation" because he's lacked a sufficient challenge in junior. Malcolm Subban, a great competitor, has to work on the glove hand. 23. Draft eligibles who helped themselves: Valeri Nichushkin (Russia). Elias Lindholm and Alexander Wennberg (Sweden) -- the Swedes did real well considering who was missing. Mirco Mueller (Switzerland). Marko Dano (Slovakia): "If this kid had anyone to play with... he would be talk of tourney."
24. Leon Draisaitl (Germany), who plays in Prince Albert, cannot be taken until 2014. But talent evaluators really like him.
25. Draft eligibles who struggled: Rasmus Ristolainen (Finland) got biggest criticism. "Wasn't sharp, didn't like to get hit and took rough penalties." Countryman Alex Barkov didn't dominate as was hoped: "Still a stud... but was not nearly the 200 foot player I expect."
26. There were wildly varying opinions on Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon. The toughest was that "they were not ready for this level." Drouin was moved to the top line, but his "incredible hands seemed to return when paired back up with MacKinnon." Some praised MacKinnon for accepting a checking role in a different position. "In the USA debacle the brief Canadian surge was made when [he] started to play regular minutes."
27. Draftees who looked good: Alex Galchenyuk (Montreal) -- "Stud." (Every NHL executive loves that word.) Mikhail Grigorenko (Buffalo). Joel Armia (Buffalo): "Most pure sniper I've seen in awhile... makes goalies look silly with release and reach... when motivated he was like man with boys." Yaroslav Kosov (Florida): "Played both ends of rink and didn't give up. Looks like a smart pick." Tomas Hertl (San Jose): "gained a step. Excellent vision, hard to contain." Got mixed reviews on Filip Forsberg (Washington).
28. Draftees who struggled: Teuvo Teravainen (Chicago). Had 12 points in six games, but "very unmotivated performance until tourney was already over." Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida): He'd been trending upward for awhile, but had a nightmarish event.
29. I don't know what to say about Nail Yakupov except that I'd bet the Oilers are very happy this lockout is over so they can get their hands on him.
30. Wanted to thank the staff at the Sofitel Hotel in New York. They couldn't have liked all the comatose reporters in the lobby as we waited out the last, lengthy bargaining session. But they were great to us. Warren 77 -- Sean Avery's bar/restaurant -- is very good, too.
Elliotte FriedmanElliotte joined CBC in October 2003 and is a commentator with Hockey Night in Canada.
As part of his duties with Hockey Night in Canada, Friedman hosts Inside Hockey, a feature airing every Saturday during Scotiabank Hockey Tonight that tells the stories of the people and places that shape the game of hockey. Always committed to giving viewers the inside story, fans call follow him throughout the regular season and playoffs on Twitter.
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