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NHL: With lockout over, emphasis now on winning fans back

Published January 7, 2013 10:58 am

NHL • Small market teams could suffer most from backlash; players are nervous about reception
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Now the real work begins.

With the NHL lockout settled early Sunday morning after a marathon session, the players know now they have to win back the fans.

"It's going to be tough, especially for some of the smaller market teams, but at the same time hockey is one of the most exciting, if not the most exciting, game in the world and we have great passionate fans and they are very knowledgeable about the game," said Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos, the NHL's leading goal scorer last season.

"There are no heroes," Detroit Red Wings forward Danny Cleary said. "The key now is to get our fan base back. The job of the players is to put a good product on the ice. We've got to play hard for the fans, for our teammates."

A lockout wiped out the entire 2004-05 season. It was the fourth work stoppage in the last 21 years.

"It was a great morning, everybody's fired up," said Cleary, who found out about the settlement when he woke up at 8 a.m. on Sunday. "Anytime you get good news like that you're excited. We just want to get going."

Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks, who returned to the Bay Area a week ago, said he was encouraged by the number of people who have been asking questions about when the lockout would be over and when the Sharks would be playing.

"I know it's tough and we've taken the game away from them for four months, and if I were a fan I'd maybe think twice about buying merchandise or coming to the games," Couture said, "but they love their hockey out here."

Sharks veteran Dan Boyle acknowledged that "part of me is nervous about what we're coming back to as far as fan reaction."

"I understand where they're coming from and how upset they are," Boyle said. "You're just kind of hoping they can put their anger and bitterness aside. I can understand their frustration, but I'm just hoping they come back. We need them to come back."

"For fans and players, too, it's been a long summer," Minnesota Wild goaltender Nicklas Backstrom said. "It's been a real long time. I'm really excited to get back on the ice and play some hockey."

This lockout lasted 113 days and cost the league the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 and Columbus from hosting the All-Star Game. The league has already said that the University of Michigan will be the site for next year's outdoor event.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the 10-year deal is largely the handiwork of mediator Scot L. Beckenbaugh, who eased tensions and smoothed contentious issues during a 16-hour bargaining session that ended with detailed framework of a new collective bargaining agreement around 4 a.m. ET Sunday. The deal still must be approved by a player vote.

Cleary, along with Detroit teammates Niklas Kronwall and Jimmy Howard, are heading to Arizona to take part in a week-long training camp with about 40 other NHL players.

Cleary and Kronwall weren't certain when "training camp" would open for the Wings, but he has heard it could be Saturday.

"This is unchartered waters for almost all of us," Cleary said when asked how the players are going to go about getting back into shape for the season. "I don't know what to expect. We'll need a lot of communication from coaches, management and trainers. When you've got two-thirds of the team not playing, you got to be careful with injuries, rest and nutrition. That's never been more critical than it is now.

"It's going to take time, but we've got a week to prepare," Cleary added. "We're professionals. We've got to be ready to go."

The season will last either 48 or 50 games.

Flyers owner Ed Snider called the work stoppage difficult, saying he felt helpless.

"But by the same token, you have to have faith in your leadership," he added. "I have 100 percent belief in Gary Bettman, despite all the negative things that have been said about him. ... He's the same guy that's taken our league to the level it's at now."

As for the fans? "I'm not good at forecasting," Snider said, "but I feel very strongly that our fans in Philadelphia are going to stick with us. We've had very few (season ticket) cancellations, and we feel like we're in a very good shape and hopefully everybody is excited that we're coming back."

Many players throughout the league have been playing in Europe during the lockout and are expected to be back in time for training camp to open.

There is also much work ahead for teams, who must quickly digest the new CBA and the rules they will operate under while filling out rosters.

New Jersey Devils netminder Martin Brodeur, who has endured three work stoppages during his career, said NHL players are prepared to put on a good show to win back disgruntled fans.

"I think for the fans it is going to be pretty exciting," said Brodeur. "Coaches know you can't afford to lose many games because a streak of three or four games winning or losing is going to decide whether you are going to end up in the playoffs or not make the playoffs.

"So it's going to be exciting but hard for the players, with a game probably every two days it's going to be like three months of playoff hockey."

Contributing: Reuters; The Sports Xchange; David Pollak, San Jose Mercury News; Bruce Brothers, St. Paul Pioneer Press; Rob Parent, Delco Times. —

Lockout terms

Here are highlights of the deal according Here are highlights of the deal according to tsn.ca:

• The players' share of hockey-related revenue will drop from 57 percent to a 50-50 split for all 10 years.

The league came off its demand for a $60 million cap in Year 2, meeting the NHLPA's request to have it at $64.3 million — which was the upper limit from last year's cap. The salary floor in Year 2 will be $44 million.

• The upper limit on the salary cap in the first year is $60 million, but teams can spend up to $70.2 million (all pro-rated). The cap floor will be $44 million.

• The 10-year deal also has an opt-out clause that kicks in after eight years.

• Each team will be allowed two amnesty buyouts that can be used to terminate contracts after this season and next season. The buyouts will count against the players' overall share in revenues, but not the team's salary cap.

• The salary variance on contracts from year to year cannot vary more than 35 per cent and the final year cannot vary more than 50 per cent of the highest year.

• A player contract term limit for free agents will be seven years and eight years for a team signing its own player.

• The draft lottery selection process will change with all 14 teams fully eligible for the first overall pick. The weighting system for each team may remain, but four-spot move restriction will be eliminated.

• Supplemental discipline for players in on-ice incidents will go through NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan first, followed by an appeal process that would go through Bettman. For suspensions of six or more games, a neutral third party will decide if necessary.

• Revenue-sharing among teams will spread to $200 million. Additionally, an NHLPA-initiated growth fund of $60 million is included.

• Teams can only walk away from a player in salary arbitration if the award is at least $3.5 million.

• The NHL had hoped to change opening of free agency to July 10, but the players stood firm and it remains July 1 in the new agreement. But with a later ending to the season, free agency for this summer will start at a later date.