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Fans, players rejoice with delayed return of NHL hockey

Staff Reporter

Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 23:01

Hard hits, fights and pucks flying across the ice have returned thanks to the NHL owners and players coming to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement agreement just a few weeks ago.

The new CBA was officially ratified on Jan. 9, ending a 113 day lockout. The tweet heard ‘round the ice’ by Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference at 5 a.m., an involved union participant during the labor talks, was celebrated by hockey fans across North America.

The new CBA saves the NHL from potentially losing the entire regular season, as it did after labor talks broke down during the 2004-2005 season. The issues facing the two sides ranged from what share of the revenue by teams the players get, to contract length and to drug testing and even equipment.

Under the old CBA, players received 57 percent of all hockey related revenues. Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, wanted that figure brought down to 50 percent. This was the most contentious issue for both sides, as neither showed a willingness to budge on the issue. Each side came up with different ideas of how to come to an agreement but still have certain concessions that would give them more money.

Another issue was contract length. Free agency in the NHL usually happened for rookies at age 27(or 7 years in the NHL), but the best players were given lavish contracts such as Ilya Kovulchuk receiving $100 million. Many others received 10 year deals or longer. The players loved it; owners and executives did not.  Some of the changes made in the new CBA are a seven year limit on free agent contracts (eight if signed by own team) and two “amnesty buyouts” per team.

This is much like what the NBA decided during their recent lockout, where a team can cut ties with a certain player without the potential cap penalty affecting the team’s salary cap, and most importantly a 50-50 split of all hockey related revenue.

Now we can concentrate on the season, which will be a shortened 48 game season, which started Saturday. There are no out of conference regular season games being played, instead every game will be in conference in order to keep the schedule on pace so the playoffs can happen during the usual dates.

There are many positives and negatives attributed to the lockout ending.

One negative is obviously less NHL games for fans. This includes the always-popular Winter Classic, a game played outside every year around New Year pitting two well-known franchises, intended to expand the hockey brand to those who may be unfamiliar to it. Also, there is almost no time in training camp. In other words, not a lot of time for players to get up to game speed or conditioning before the season starts. This might affect goalies the most.

“A muscle needs to be trained. Even after as little as 2-3 days, they need to be retrained to the speed of NHL players shooting the puck,” hockey analyst Kelly Hrudey said.

 But it’s not just goalies who might be affected by a less than usual amount of practice time, and we have seen this play out during the first slew of games since Saturday. Marian Hossa, a right winger for the Chicago Blackhawks, has had a field day so far against two of the top defensive teams in the league, the Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes. Two games, four goals, five assists and nine shots is a good stat line for any player.

Through four days of games—35 games total—10 games have seen at least one team score five goals or more. This may be attributed to defenses and goalies needing a week or two to settle down and become accustomed to game speed.

The biggest positive of the lockout ending of course is that hockey is back. Period.  And judging by attendance of fans during the first few games, there are no hard feelings toward the lockout as long as there are games to watch. Many players stayed in shape through the lockout by signing with AA Hockey and other European teams.

Some of the biggest names in hockey practiced and played in actual games well before training camps started, ensuring that they would be in top shape once the season began. Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Tyler Seguin were just a few players who took advantage of the situation.

 For now, hockey is back and fans across North America cannot be happier to have reason to visit their favorite rinks again and cheer on their favorite hockey players.

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