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Open the Rinks: Hockey is (Nearly) Back

After an agreement was made between the NHL and NHLPA, empty hockey arenas are about to become, well, half full.

A tentative agreement has been reached between the National Hockey League and the Player’s Association that will see an NHL season commences shortly, it was reported Sunday morning.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman – he of the “let’s take two weeks off to think things over” fame – and NHLPA Executive Donald Fehr made the announcement, informing the media that, “We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s good to be at this point.”

ESPN reports that the new collective bargaining agreement will be put in place for 10 years, with an opt out for both parties at eight [more on that later], with contract lengths and salary cap restrictions cautiously in place.

If all goes according to plan, we could have hockey in less than two weeks.

Well, excuse me if I’m not about to leap out of my chair and dance along to ‘Gangnam Style’.

After 113 days of listening to two parties bang on about getting a fair deal whilst investing in the future of the game, you and I could both be forgiven for not really putting all that much stock in what is a ‘tentative deal’, even if it does bring about a season.

Too often over the last four months, the NHL and the NHLPA have done nothing. Sure, the right words have been said when needed but frankly the whole process has been one long dirt track of nothingness. Now, with the deadline looming for a lot of people to lose a lot more money, somehow things are getting back on track. Of course they are.

Now, if the deal is okayed – and that’s not a given, although if either side balks now you can’t help but think head will roll – we get to watch a bunch of out-of-shape players take to the ice against those tired from traveling halfway across the world, from those Russian and European ice rinks where they’ve been keeping themselves in pocket change.

We get a rushed preseason followed by a sub-standard regular season, followed by a round of a dubious set of playoffs culminating in a Stanley Cup champion that will always have an asterisk next to their name – just ask the San Antonio Spurs.

Again, excuse me if that doesn’t get my sporting juices flowing.

What reeks most about the whole affair – and I tackled this some five weeks back – is that we’re only eight years removed from the last time this happened, which was the second time (after 1994-95 season) a work stoppage had impacted a season on Bettman’s watch. This season marks a third (and surely last?) strike against the Commissioner.

Let’s jump back quickly. How many years ago did we lose the season? Oh, right, eight.

So, the current CBA will be put in place for 10 years but with an opt out clause for either party after eight years. How very kind of both parties to give us forewarning that we can expect the very same nonsense following in 2020. A head’s up is always appreciated in these parts.

Last time I checked (Dec. 21), oddsmakers had an agreement being made before Jan. 15 at 4/7, with an agreement after that date at 1/1. Looks like they were right. Will they be right about picking the Penguins as favorites to lift the Stanley Cup? Will the Penguins still be favorites this time next week?

More importantly for the NHL, how many people will care? There’s no way the league (or the players for that matter) are getting away with this one. People – those that aren’t diehard fans – will vote with their feet and the NHL will take a hit. More’s the pity.

Finally, we have a verbal agreement in place that means hockey is back on the agenda. Remind me again what a ‘verbal’ agreement is worth. If you’re still somewhat pessimistic – that is to say, you’re not convinced until Sidney Crosby et al are on the ice – don’t worry, you’re not the only one.

If this one was to blow up in Bettman and Fehr’s face, it would hardly be a huge surprise now would it?

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