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Sabres G Ryan Miller on Friday had "a few lingering frustrations to get off his chest regarding the NHL lockout," according to John Wawrow of the AP. Miller said, "The best thing to do is acknowledge that it was stupid. I appreciate [the fans'] patience. I know it’s a hard situation. I still don’t even know the right message because it was just a stupid, useless waste of time." Miller, who played a role in negotiations, said he was "embarrassed" that it took more than six months of negotiations to reach an agreement. He laid the blame "on owners, specifically singling out commissioner Gary Bettman, whom he accused of being the reason why the four-month lockout wasn’t resolved sooner." Miller said, "In my mind, it always had to be January in Gary Bettman’s mind. Obviously, he had something in his head and he was going to see how far he could take it. So there’s really no going up against Gary, when he has something in his head" (AP, 1/11).
TIME TO PASS THE TORCH: In L.A., Helene Elliott wrote on her Twitter feed that Bettman will "be at the Kings' banner raising" on Saturday afternoon, but "by his own choice -- will not go onto the ice" (TWITTER.com, 1/14). In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont wrote it is "unimaginable" that Bettman "ever again will fulfill the commissioner’s duty of handing out the Stanley Cup" after this latest lockout. It has been "increasingly embarrassing to watch Bettman do it in recent years, given the level of animosity that showers down upon him from the stands." With three lockouts now "under his belt and fans historically siding with players in labor disputes, the exercise would be not only painful to witness but potentially damaging to the brand." It would be "far better to have" a Hockey HOFer like Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, or Wayne Gretzky "haul out the hardware" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/13).
CROSBY MAKES HIS CASE: YAHOO SPORTS' Nicholas Cotsonika wrote Penguins C Sidney Crosby is "in a unique position" within the NHL, as he is "delicate and powerful, and he knows it." He "didn't have to do anything during negotiations," as the new contract rules "wouldn't affect him personally." With so much "star power and influence," he also could have "put more pressure on one side or the other." However, Crosby "straddled the line, letting other players take the lead for the union, but staying informed and involved with both sides -- more out front than other stars of his stature have been in the past, more outspoken than he might have been in the past." Crosby said of his involvement in the proceedings, "I wouldn't say it was easy. But I think that it was something that I believed in, and I felt like I wanted what was good for everyone. I wasn't going to sit up there and say, 'You know what? I want to take everything from the owners and get as much as we can get.' I knew it was important for both sides to come out of the deal happy, but I knew there were certain things for us that were important, too. I was willing to support those things" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/11).
GOING BEHIND THE SCENES: The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts wrote the key to ending the NHL lockout "slipped into place at 2 a.m. last Sunday," when Coyotes RW Shane Doan "sat down" with NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and NHL outside counsel Bob Batterman in a board room at NHL HQs in N.Y. More than 12 hours earlier, Bettman and the owners "remained adamant the salary cap in the second year of a new collective agreement could not be more than" $60M (all figures U.S.). But the players wanted a "more gradual move to the lower salary cap and were holding out" for $64.3M, the same as the '11-12 cap, after starting at $70M. By the time Doan "sat down with Daly and Batterman, the owners had grudgingly raised their offer" to $62.5M, less than $2M away from the players. But "one hour later, after Doan explained why the players could not move from their number, his sincerity won over Daly and Batterman." It was the "key breakthrough and the remaining major issues were worked through in a couple of hours." By 5:00am ET, the players and owners "had a tentative agreement on a new labour deal." The lockout "was over." Shoalts included a "timeline of the major events that led to the agreement" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/12).
ANALYSIS OF A DEAL: NHL player agent Tom Laidlaw said both the league and the union "really gave in” during the CBA negotiations to get a deal done. Laidlaw said NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr kept the players “all together … and for him to keep everybody together the way he did as long as he did that’s one of the biggest things” in the negotiations. Laidlaw noted the players “knew they were going to have to give up some things," and they "did their best to give up as little as possible and get back as much as they could.” Meanwhile, Laidlaw said “everybody wants to pick on” Bettman, but he has "helped to drive salaries up." Laidlaw: "People don’t like him because of the job he has to do, but from a business side … he’s done a very good job for everybody” (“Sportfolio,” Bloomberg TV, 1/11).
NHL training camps opened yesterday, and in a "positive sign for a league that had some concern about fan backlash" following the lockout, fans "seemed to be showing up" to the open practices, according to Kevin Allen of USA TODAY. About 2,000 fans "showed up at Compuware Arena to watch the Red Wings hold two practices," while there was an "overflow crowd of about 3,000 fans" at the Flyers practice in Voorhees, N.J. The Flyers had to "close off the parking lot, and some fans had to wait in the lobby until other fans left before they were let in." The Blue Jackets "drew a standing-room-only crowd of 1,200, and it was thought to be the largest gathering they have ever had for a first day of training camp" (USA TODAY, 1/14). In Columbus, Shawn Mitchell notes the crowd "filled the Ice Haus and stood three deep in spots around the glass." Blue Jackets RW Derek Dorsett said, "Every year we have a pretty good turnout, but this year was the biggest I've seen since I've been here" (DISPATCH.com, 1/14). In St. Louis, Jeremy Rutherford notes an "estimated 5,500 fans filed into Scottrade Center to watch" the Blues' first practice. Blues RW Jamie Langenbrunner said of the fans, "We didn’t assume anything like that. We hope to reward them this year with some good hockey, and that’s our focus. We’re going to go out and put a good product on the ice every night and come out and work hard. Hopefully come June, we’ll be celebrating something" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 1/14).
WELCOME BACK! In Tampa, Damian Cristodero notes the Lightning had about 5,500 fans attended the team's FanFest at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Lightning RW Martin St. Louis said that this "proved the healing process from the lockout has started" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 1/14). In Winnipeg, Kirk Penton noted more than 5,000 fans "showed up at MTS Centre on Sunday afternoon for the first official Jets practice of the season" (WINNIPEGSUN.com, 1/13). In Edmonton, Cailynn Klingbeil noted the Oilers yesterday hit the ice at Hawrelak Park in front of "a crowd of about 2,000 fans." The match only was announced on Twitter "a couple of hours in advance because details were still being finalized Sunday morning" (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 1/14). In Pittsburgh, Josh Yohe noted the Penguins hosted an "overflow crowd of more than 2,000," and seats were "filled an hour before the Penguins were scheduled to take the ice." The players "skated to the glass and raised their sticks to the crowd." The gesture "prompted the crowd to give the Penguins a standing ovation" (TRIBLIVE.com, 1/13). In Raleigh, Chip Alexander notes "more than a thousand fans turned out Sunday at PNC Arena." Hurricanes C Eric Staal: "It was awesome to see them." Canes players also were "allowed their first look at the extensive redesign" of the locker room at PNC Arena. The lockers are "topped by a collage of memorable moment and players from Canes' past" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 1/14). In Montreal, Dave Stubbs writes any sign of "bitterness or lingering resentment was not on display" during yesterday's Canadiens practice. Many "hundreds of fans were several deep around the glass at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard" (Montreal GAZETTE, 1/14).
ALL ABOUT THE FANS: In Nashville, Dave Ammenheuser wrote, "Will the fans return? Of course. They always do. What happened in 2005, the year after the NHL closed down for an entire season? The league set attendance records" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 1/13). Also in Nashville, David Climer wrote to fans, "The NHL is banking on your return. Why? Because you always do" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 1/13). In St. Louis, Bernie Miklasz writes, "What to make of the fans’ resilience? It’s easy to take potshots at those who choose to return to the rink to support an ungrateful league that’s betrayed public trust with three separate lockouts since 1994. But if fans love hockey, then they love hockey. No apologies are necessary" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 1/14). In N.Y., Brett Cyrgalis wrote it "might take a while to draw some fans back to arenas ... but the good news for New York is that the three local teams likely will be in constant action" (N.Y. POST, 1/13).
MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE: ESPN.com's Lynn Hoppes wrote fans are "in wait-and-see mode." NHL Fans Association Exec Dir Jim Boone said, "They can apologize all they want, but what specific actions are they going to do to get the fans back? I don't want a situation where they just paint 'Thanks Fans' on the ice like last time. Actions speak way louder than words." Boone has had "some conversations" with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and "knows that people will try to retaliate in some way for the third work stoppage in Bettman's tenure." But, "in his heart, Boone knows the die-hards will be back" (ESPN.com, 1/11). In Phoenix, Dan Bickley wrote this year's lockout "was a clown show that infuriated the most loyal fans in sports." Hockey customers are "diehard, aware they must be loud and proud if their sport is going to be heard." They "don’t ask for a lot in return, except cold beer, a close game and a good fight." But the latest work stoppage was "a deep show of disrespect, especially when players seem stunned they wasted six months to reach this conclusion" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 1/13).