Hockey returns: fans react to shortened NHL season
by Phil Ambroziak
The long wait is finally over.
Although significantly abbreviated with a mere 48 games (per team) on the schedule, National Hockey League action is finally set to resume Jan. 19 following a 113-day lockout that left both players and fans wondering whether or not there would ever be a 2012-13 NHL season.
“The last time there was a lockout, it cancelled the entire season,” remarked Meadow Lake resident Darwin Assman. “It’s tough for fans who want to support their favourite teams, but are unable to attend games or watch them on TV.”
The dispute began Sept. 15 when owners of the league’s franchises, led by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, declared a lockout of National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) members after a new collective bargaining agreement could not be reached. A total of 625 of the 1,230 originally scheduled regular season games were cancelled as a result.
At issue for the owners were desires to reduce the players’ guaranteed 57 per cent share of hockey-related revenues, introduce term limits on contracts, eliminate salary arbitration and change free agency rules. Discussions were ongoing until a tentative deal was reached on a new agreement Jan. 6. Terms include a limit of eight years on contract extensions and seven years on new contracts, a salary floor of $44 million (U.S.) and a salary cap of $60 million (U.S.) among other conditions. The season officially gets underway Jan. 19.
As an avid Edmonton Oilers fan and season ticket holder for the past 10 years, Assman said the details don’t matter so much as it does to see NHL hockey return.
“When the lockout happened, I did have an option to cancel my season tickets, but I would never do that,” he said. “I’m just happy it’s back.”
In spite of talk about a decline in fan loyalty and how the lockout may have permanently turned some people away from the league, Assman does not believe this will be the case when the puck eventually drops.
“I’m excited to attend the first (Edmonton) home game of the season,” he said. “At the end of the day, the arenas will be full. I’m disappointed there wasn’t hockey all season, but it’s better to have at least 48 games than none at all.”
Assman also believes the shortened schedule will result in more “up-tempo” games.
“Each team knows they have to produce – they can’t afford to go on big losing streaks,” he said. “It’s going to be exciting hockey.”
One player who is definitely ready to return is former Meadow Lake resident Dwight King, a member of last year’s Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings.
“The reaction (to the new agreement) is definitely positive,” King said. “I’m looking forward to starting my full-time NHL career.
It’s a shortened season, but it will still give me a chance to get my legs under me.”
King collected 14 points, 10 penalty minutes and a plus-three rating in 27 regular season games last season. He came to L.A. from the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League. During the Stanley Cup playoffs, King collected a total of five goals, eight points, 13 penalty minutes and a plus-three rating. This past summer, prior to the lockout, he was signed to a new contract with L.A. In the interim, King has once again been honing his skills with the Monarchs. He said his new NHL contract takes effect with the launch of the new season.
“It (lockout) was a pretty unique situation and I don’t assume there will be any more work stoppages any time soon,” King said. “As for momentum, we (L.A.) will have an advantage because all our guys are back and we know each other. But, there’s still a chance for any team to succeed. It’s going to be pretty competitive.”
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