NHL HOCKEY IS BACK!
Today is the day that Colorado Avalanche fans have waited for since the dismal conclusion to last season. Hockey in North America is back!
It came in the night like a long overdue present from Santa Claus, forgotten for some time before being delivered. In the wee hours of the morning, one familiar, redheaded Denver Post beat writer broke the news that the long overdue conclusion to the third NHL lockout in the last twenty years was finally upon us… on his birthday no less.
“People say it’s like Christmas morning waking up today? I’d say this is a lot better. Couldn’t be more excited!!” tweeted Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog.
While the details are slowly gravitating towards the light from a variety of sources, nothing concrete has been released other than the feel good statements from the two heads of the battle, Gary Bettman and Don Fehr.
“Don Fehr and I are here to tell you that we have reached an agreement on the framework of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the details of which need to be put to paper,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said at a press conference. “We have to dot a lot of I’s and cross a lot of T’s. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the basic framework has been agreed upon. We have to go through a ratification process and the Board of Governors has to approve it from the League side and, obviously, the players have to approve it as well. We are not in a position to give you information right now about schedule, when we are starting. It’s early in the morning and we have been at this all day and all night, obviously. But, we will be back to you very shortly, hopefully, later today with more information in that regard.”
Fehr added that communication to the players was also his first priority.
“As Gary just indicated, we have the framework of a deal. We have to do the legal work and we have to do the constituent-communication work. At least, from my [standpoint], and I’m sure Gary’s too, we need to let them know the details before we tell all of you,” Fehr said at the same presser. “Having said that, hopefully, we’re at a place where all those things will proceed fairly rapidly and with some dispatch and we’ll get back to what we used to call business as usual as fast as we can.”
Fans awaiting the start of the shortened season will have to pine a little longer as the two sides come together to draft a new schedule that will likely only feature inter-conference play during a much shortened (maybe 50 games) campaign. Though it is likely the NHL has a contingency draft nearly ready to go.
As players begin to flock back to Denver, what fans do know – as reported by Adrian Dater – is that this new Collective Bargaining Agreement is for ten years, with an opt out clause at eight years. A sticking point all along, the salary cap for the next season maxes out at $64.3 million and player contracts are limited to seven years unless a club re-signs someone – then it is eight years.
According to The Fourth Period, additional details include two amnesty buyouts for next season for teams to fit under the cap and a new draft lottery process allowing all teams that miss the playoffs – including the Avs last year – a chance at the first overall pick.
Even better is that, since there will be hockey played, the Edmonton Oilers don’t automatically get the first overall pick again. They will have to earn that honor the usual way.
NHL writer Andy Strickland is also reporting that only NHL players on entry-level contracts will be required to share a room with another player while on the road. Everyone else can fly solo. According to strickland, the determination used to be 600 games played.
Whether fans immediately return or not seems to be a point of contention, as those turned off by the long-running bickering continue to voice their displeasure with the NHL product. However you see it, the return makes a big impact on the game in North America.
Teams in a variety of leagues including the American Hockey League, East Coast Hockey League, Central Hockey League, and even those in the Canadian Hockey League will all be seeing roster shakeups as call ups and reassignments light the transaction wire on fire in the coming days. Players eligible for the AHL will certainly return to their parent clubs, helping fuel a mass exodus of upward movement. This trend is a boon to bubble players who just missed out on a chance at a lower level club.
The Colorado Eagles were victims of some upward momentum already this season, as their top two scorers (also the top two in the ECHL), Chad Costello and Jack Combs, signed professional tryout offers in the AHL. More of this is likely as both the Eagles, and the Denver Cutthroats, have AHL affiliations.
While the Cutthroats will almost certainly keep their stellar goaltending duo in town, the club has already lost Gabriel Beaupre, Markus Lauridsen, Ben Wilson, Jamie MacQueen, and Dean Strong to the Lake Erie Monsters and more could follow as Erie will certainly give up at least a defenseman to the Avalanche in the near future.
The Avalanche still have a bit of work to do before the season gets rolling. First, arguably the top center on the team, Ryan O’Reilly, is still without contract. He needs to be locked down in the next five days. Second, a handful of players, including veteran netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere, have not been playing competitively for some time, so an intense training period needs to commence without delay.
With a lot of foggy uncertainty clearing up in the next few days, one thing is for sure: the Stanley Cup will be awarded at the end of a season that will be nothing short of exciting.
Major stick tap to Scot Beckenbaugh, a federal mediator, for helping drive the teams together when they were apart. He was key in making this happen.
What do you think about the news? Will you return to the NHL or are you taking some time off?