Sidney Crosby says the prolonged NHL labour negotiations could have ended a month ago with what essentially was the same agreement that was reached over the weekend.
Crosby, long considered the face of the NHL, became the most visible face for the players during an early December negotiating session in New York in which some of the league's moderate owners, including the Penguins' Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, tried to break an impasse and reach a deal.
But just when it appeared significant progress had been made and an agreement might be imminent, negotiations were halted. That impasse disheartened the Penguins' star, who was eager to play again after missing much of the previous two seasons dealing with multiple concussion layoffs.
Now that a deal is finally done, Crosby wonders why the extra month was needed.
"It's pretty close to what was there in New York.," Crosby said Monday after about a dozen Penguins practised on their own. "There's no great explanation for it. It's negotiations and, unfortunately, that's the way it goes. It's just an ugly thing to go through and I wouldn't recommend having to go through that again. It's difficult."
Penguins forward Craig Adams, extensively involved in the talks, backed Crosby's contention that the agreement took far longer to be completed than was necessary.
"Even though that week in New York ended badly, we still made a lot of progress, so I agree with Sid," Adams said. "That probably ended up laying the groundwork for what was the deal. And, yeah, it's frustrating we didn't get it done then and we could have taken four to five weeks off this lockout. But for whatever reason it didn't happen then, and here we are now."
Roller coaster process
Crosby said that breakdown was one of the low points of a career he is understandably impatient to resume. Because of concussion issues, he missed the entire second half of the 2010-11 season and another 60 games last season. In both seasons, the Penguins were ousted in the first round of the playoffs.
"New York was pretty bad," Crosby said. "I felt like we had had made a lot of progress over those few days and to have that announcement that the deal was off the table after those long days and what you thought was progress, that was pretty discouraging. That followed by not a lot of talk, it didn't look too good right at that moment. But that's part of the roller coaster of this whole process."
Now that there will be games again, Crosby and Penguins co-star Evgeni Malkin — on the ice together minimally for two years — are healthy and ready to go for a team that is expected to be a prime Stanley Cup favourite.
With a shortened season awaiting them, Crosby said it is imperative to get off to a good start.
"We have to make sure we're executing pretty good right off the start," said Crosby, who had eight goals and 29 assists in 22 games last season. "There will be a few more mistakes than you'll typically see at the start of the year because of no pre-season, but we still have to start well."
Crosby also said every game will take on a greater sense of urgency.
"I know we've all missed that competition and we've all kind of craved that. We're going to get a good dose of that, especially early on. It forces everyone to be even more prepared than maybe typically it would be," he said.
Long-term deal good news for players
As for the negotiations, Crosby said both sides should be "happy" with the deal, if only because it buys at least eight years of labour peace.
"At the end of the day, we're going to be working together for a long time and hopefully, we won't have to go through this again," Crosby said. "There is no doubt the process has definitely been difficult and hasn't been good for anyone."
Adams added: "No player should be under the illusion we got a great deal."
"But we did very well under the circumstances," he added. "There are a lot of things in this deal that aren't as good for the players as they were. I think the owners got a really good deal, and hopefully we got enough things in there and held onto enough things that it will be a good deal for us in the long run."
Crosby understands there is considerable fan frustration following the second extended lockout in eight years, though that might not show up in Pittsburgh as much as it does in other cities. The Penguins, who have nearly 10,000 on their season-ticket waiting list, had fewer than 50 full-season cancellations.
"We know there's a lot of frustration," he said. "We were frustrated, It's a difficult situation and ugly for everybody. But we're happy it's behind us ... and we're excited to get started."