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Monday, January 7, 2013 / 9:34 AM

Hockey Returns: Labor Deal Saves Shortened Season for Blues

Hockey Returns: Labor Deal Saves Shortened Season for Blues

It took a marathon, 16-hour, last-gasp negotiating session that stretched into Sunday morning, but the NHL lockout is finally over.

The league and players' association have reached a tentative agreement resolving their various sticking points and guaranteeing that there will be a 2012-13 season, minus the 2012. Each side still needs to officially ratify the new 10-year collective bargaining agreement, but that's considered a formality and should happen within the next few days.

The deal came without a ton of time to spare; the league would have canceled the entire season later this week, if an agreement had not been reached.

The particulars are probably interesting to only the most diehard fans (though that probably describes the vast majority of hockey's devoted fanatics), the sort of people who spend the off-season making salary cap projections. In short: Players accepted a lower percentage of the league's revenues (50 percent, down from 57 percent); the maximum length for player contracts was reduced to seven years (or eight years for a player re-signed by his former team); and the salary cap for the 2013-14 season was dropped to $64.3 million, with a $44 million salary floor.

But here are the more pertinent questions: When are they going to start playing hockey, and how much hockey are they going to play? We won't have concrete answers until after the deal is ratified. But based on various media reports, it seems that the most likely scenario is a 48-game season (or maybe even 50 games) to start somewhere between January 15 and January 19.

The lockout lasted 113 days, making it slightly longer than the work stoppage in 1994-95, but much shorter than the 2004-2005 lockout, when the entire season was lost. Certainly, the end to this latest ugly dispute will not heal all wounds. In the Post-Dispatch today, Jeff Gordon complained that the new labor deal doesn't do enough to correct the competitive imbalance between the league's haves and have-nots, leaving the Blues at a disadvantage when compared to big-market, big-money teams. And no doubt, some fans, having endured too many of these lost or shortened seasons during the tenure of commissioner Gary Bettman, will never return. It's a shame, but it's completely understandable. And even for the fans who do come back, the product on the ice this year is likely to be diminished, without a proper training camp or preseason to work out the kinks.

Today, though, is not a day for that sombre tone. Today is a day for celebration, because at long last, hockey returns. The Blues will finally be given a chance to build on their upstart playoff season from a year ago. Can they take the next step and contend for a Stanley Cup? Finally, we can turn our attention from men in boardrooms talking to men on the ice competing. I'd say that's a welcome improvement.

Or as Blues winger T.J. Oshie told the Post, “I don’t even know what word I can use to describe it…maybe Christmas Day when you’re about 10 years old. You wait for so long for it to get here… It’s just great that it’s all over and we can play the game we love again.”

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