I went to bed Saturday night thinking a deal was close, but that the NHL and NHLPA might be grinding away for another day or two in order to try and squeeze a little extra before coming to a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement.
After all, the two sides had been close before and this staring contest has lasted a whopping 113 days.
The text messages and emails came in fast and furious on Sunday morning and the long-awaited news was coming in.
For all intents and purposes, the NHL lockout was over (pending ratification from both sides, of course).
But after riding the roller-coaster of emotions the past few months, it’s expected that the players will ratify the deal later this week (perhaps by Wednesday) and the owners will do the same at a board of governors meeting (likely looking like Wednesday as well).
Training camps are expected to open Saturday, with the 48-game regular season likely beginning on Jan. 19. If things go quicker than expected, Jan. 15 is said to remain in play.
Been a busy day here trying to track down players and information but a successful one nonetheless and we have a comprehensive package in the paper and over at www.winnipegsun.com.
Managed to catch up with five Jets players over the course of the day: centre Jim Slater (in Winnipeg), defenceman Mark Stuart (at the airport in Charleston, S.C. where he was leaving the Florida Everblades of the ECHL), winger Evander Kane (in Vancouver), captain Andrew Ladd (at home in B.C.) and team rep Ron Hainsey (finally back home in Connecticut after a long week of negotiations in New York City).
Naturally, there was plenty of relief and excitement in the voices of all five players.
Here’s Hainsey on finally finding common ground in the wee hours of Sunday morning after a long week of negotiating:
“It was a process, there was never any real breakdown in the process. Both sides continued to move towards each other in areas they thought were important. It took six days of pretty long hours, but we continued to work at it and hammer it out. No one stormed out and left town or whatever. Because of that we were able to get a deal done that the players will be able to ratify,” said Hainsey, who should be back in Winnipeg on Tuesday.
The players realize it’s going to take some time to get the game back on track and repair the damage done to the brand during the lockout, but all were hopeful that Jets’ were eventually going to be forgiving and provide a passionate atmosphere inside the MTS Centre once the season gets going.
“We have really knowledgeable hockey fans here that understand the game and hopefully they understand the business part of it too and welcome us back like I hope they would,” said Slater. “It’s going to be a heck of a week to get ready. Everyone is real excited to get going. We’ve all wanted this for a while and now we’ve finally got it.”
I asked a few of the players if losing almost half a season for the deal they ended up agreeing on was going to be worth it in the end?
Each of them made it clear they were focused on making the most out of what’s left and not focusing on what might have been.
“What’s happened has happened. We’re ready to play now and what’s happened is in the past,” said Slater.
“Right now, I kind of just want to put it behind us and try to win the fans respect and trust back,” added Stuart, who will return to Winnipeg on Monday. “I’m just concentrating on getting ready to play. I’m excited for it.”
Ladd, who expects to be back in Winnipeg in a day or two, realizes that the players have “pissed off” some fans and that the best way to win them back is to put a good product on the ice and win some games.
Kane was planning to enjoy another day or two in Vancouver before rejoining his teammates in Winnipeg.
“Everybody is pretty satisfied with the deal and is looking forward to getting back on the ice” said Kane. “I’ve been optimistic throughout the entire process. The last couple of days, with there being a deadline and us not using the power to disclaim, showed that we wanted to get a deal done. The league reciprocated that. Am I a little surprised to get it done this quick, maybe. But I’m happy about it.”
What will reaction be like in Winnipeg for a shortened season?
“I’m not sure. Hopefully, it’s positive,” said Kane. “Hockey is back and the fans have been waiting a long time for this. Like we’ve stressed from the beginning of this process, we’re just as frustrated as anybody as players. That’s all coming to an end now. We’re looking forward to getting back in front of them and playing hard for them.”
One of the common refrains was talk about getting back into the routine of being a pro hockey player and being back in the room with their teammates, many of whom have been scattered across the world during the lockout.
“It’s been a long grind of training and skating in small groups. To be able to get back in the room and see all of your teammates again is going to be exciting,” said Ladd. “For sure, that’s what you miss the most, along with the games, is the camaraderie with the guys. We have a pretty close group in Winnipeg and we haven’t seen a lot of those guys in a long, long time. We’re looking forward to seeing them, meeting the new guys and getting them involved with the group and just getting ready to play hockey again.”
“It’s been a long time coming,” added Stuart. “That’s one of the things I missed the most, the routine with that group of guys. It will be nice to get back to doing your job and having fun doing it.”
We’ll try to catch up with a few more Jets at the Iceplex and possibly by phone on Monday and before you know it, we’ll be working to tee up the new season — which will certainly be a serious upgrade from discussing labour negotiations.
What do you think about the NHL returning with a season of 48 to 50 games?