Let the season begin.
NHL training camps are expected to open Sunday after the ratification process for the new collective bargaining agreement is completed, according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly.
The league and NHLPA spent Tuesday continuing to hammer out a memorandum of understanding that will ultimately be voted on by their constituents. The owners will cast ballots in person at a Board of Governors meeting Wednesday afternoon in New York while the players are expected to vote electronically on Thursday and Friday.
If all of that goes off without a hitch, the agreement would then be signed by the parties.
“It’s being worked on,” Daly said Tuesday in an email. “We don’t need it signed until the ratification process is done, which looks like Saturday.”
The league is targeting a 48-game season beginning Jan. 19, leaving very little time for everyone involved with the sport to get organized. The schedule isn’t expected to be released until after the Board of Governors ratifies the agreement.
The deal was hammered out early Sunday morning after a marathon 16-hour negotiating session.
Almost immediately, players began travelling back to the cities where their teams play in anticipation of a season unlike anything most have ever seen. A typical training camp runs for about three weeks and can include as many as eight exhibition games per team. This one will have teams on the ice for just five days before opening the regular season.
“We’ve got to be prepared,” Lightning star Steven Stamkos said Tuesday in Tampa. “It’s going to be a different year, it’s a sprint. There’s no room for taking a couple games off here, especially early on. You’ve got to get off to a good start and I’m excited to get an opportunity to do that.”
That echoed the enthusiasm heard around the continent.
More than 200 players signed with European teams during the lockout while many others, including Edmonton Oilers forward Taylor Hall, spent time in the American Hockey League. Most found that nothing quite matches the NHL environment and expressed hope that fans wouldn’t be reluctant to embrace the sport after the labour dispute.
“We’re here playing and we hope the fans still love us and support us like they used to,” Hall told reporters in Edmonton. “They’re the reason we love to play here.”
The NHL played a 48-game season following the 1994-95 lockout and that allowed for a balanced intra-conference schedule for what was then a 26-team league.
It’s going to be a little more complicated this time around. The NHL is planning to have teams play three games against the 10 opponents within the same conference but outside their division. They will then have an unbalanced schedule against division rivals, with five games against two teams and four against the two others, according to a source.
Once a memorandum of understanding is signed, the NHL’s new CBA is expected to be completed by the end of February. The league and NHLPA have agreed to meet over 10 consecutive days next month to finish off a document that will total several hundred pages.
Of course, it will be done out of the public view. By then the focus will be entirely on the ice.