Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the National Hockey League, announced Sunday that there will be an NHL season after all — or, at least, half a season.
“We’ve got to dot a lot of i’s and cross a lot of t’s,” Bettman said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the basic framework of the deal has been agreed upon.”
Since spake the commissioner, the owners have ratified the agreement to which Bettman referred. The players are currently in the process of doing so, via electronic voting. Lockout-weary Shane Doan, a forward for the Phoenix Coyotes, is among the many voting “Yea.”
“It was the best deal for us available, and it’s always tough, because we’re fans of the game, and we wish we didn’t have to go through this,” Doan said. “But we did, and we’re on the other side now.”
The new collective bargaining agreement cuts the players’ share of hockey-related revenue from 57 to 50 percent, but the players got improvements in their pension plan. Compromises are evident throughout the new deal, which has lots of people – Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference among them – wondering why reaching an agreement took so long, and if the gain was worth the pain.
“We’re fans, just as much as everybody else, and it drove us crazy to be locked out,” Ference said. “You know, it’s not our choice to shut the game down or to have it stop. You know, we fully wanted to play. It’s not easy to face people and say you’re sorry for making them wait so long for a sport they love. But it wasn’t by choice, and, trust us, it hurt. It hurt a lot.”
Some NHL players eased the pain by playing elsewhere. We spoke in November with the Montreal Canadians’ Scott Gomez, who’d returned to his home state of Alaska to play for the minor-league Anchorage Aces. Aces Head Coach Rob Murray says Gomez and the three other NHL players on his roster during the lockout were an inspiration to his regulars.
“These guys, they were full in,” Murray said. “They bought in right from the beginning. Every day was the same thing, no taking practices off, they’re riding the coach, and there was no special treatment for these guys. They didn’t want it that way. They just wanted to be part of the team from day one.”
“Next you’re going to tell me they were carrying their own hockey gear,” I commented.
“Yeah. Yup. They carried their own bags into the rink,” Murray said. “Whenever we arrived somewhere, we always go to the rink, and drop our gear off, and they carried their own stuff.”
The players and the league that locked them out for half a season now have to hope that news of behavior like that will convince hockey fans that these players are worthy of attention in this truncated campaign.
Perhaps in that regard Paul Corrie, a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins and their star Sidney Crosby, is representative. Asked whether he’d be back in the stands, Corrie didn’t hesitate to answer in the affirmative.
“You better believe it,” Corrie replied. “I’ll be watching Sidney and the rest of the boys, and hopefully they’ll stomp the Flyers.”