The NHL lockout is over, and it's okay to talk hockey again

Justin Sullivan

It's sure going to be nice not to hear Gary Bettman's name again, at least until he insists on handing the Stanley Cup to one of the players he just locked out for almost four months.

I woke up, and my wife quickly told me that Syracuse's Doug Marrone was taking the Buffalo Bills job. Oh, and the lockout is over.

See, even my poor spouse -- a hockey die-hard -- has been conditioned to forget about the NHL over the last (almost) four months. So much so that she buried the lede. Not anymore.

In fact, once the NHL season begins in a couple weeks, it's going to become impossible to forget the league exists.

Early Sunday morning, word circulated that the NHL and NHL Players Association had reached a tentative agreement on a new CBA, and we finally have ended the 113-day lockout that no one ever totally understood in the first place.

"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.

"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."

While the Winter Classic is gone, and there is no real opportunity for teams like Pittsburgh to go to places like Los Angeles for high-profile interconference games, the league has averted the disaster that a cancelled season would present.

(If you thought the NHL was struggling to attract sponsorships when compared to other leagues, wait until the season got nuked. I'm glad it didn't, because it would have been unbelievably ugly from that standpoint.)

The league will get plenty of exposure, both on NBC (which was slated to start its regular weekend broadcasts on Jan. 20) and NBC Sports Network. Hockey Night in Canada should be awesome with all the divisional and rivalry games we will see over a shortened season.

Plus, the term of the deal is a minimum of eight years, and not the insultingly low 3-5 years we had seen in past proposals. Could you imagine going through all of this gobbledegook again in three years?

For those of us who enjoy hockey, there have been ways to "get a fix" without the NHL. NBC Sports Network has aired plenty of college hockey, and we just saw the United States win gold at the World Junior Championships. There are minor league and junior games all over the place.

Whether you became a fan of a non-NHL team or not during the lockout, the end of this stupid labor dispute should serve as welcome news.

For starters, no more Gary Bettman, Bill Daly, or Donald and Steve Fehr news. I could do without their faces on my television for a little while. The faces of the NHL shouldn't be the suits who almost destroyed the game with selfishness, stubbornness and general behavior that is the exact opposite of the NHL's fan-friendly image.

No board room crap. No financial numbers. Instead, I want to write about Zach Parise returning home to try to deliver a Cup to Minnesota, or the Rangers trying to take the next step, or Roberto Luongo finally getting traded, or the youthful Edmonton Oilers climbing the ladder in the West.

The faces of the NHL should be the sweat-filled guys the fans rally behind as they chase the Stanley Cup, not the suited snakes that almost took the league away.

Speaking of the Stanley Cup, the 16-win mission should be as crazy as ever this spring and summer.

It's a bit early for handicapping, but those 16 playoff spots will be hard to earn, and they will be fought for like crazy over the entirety of the season. And, no, the champion doesn't get an asterisk.

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