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Wild fans celebrated after goaltender Niklas Backstrom blocked a penalty shot in the 2008 NHL playoffs.

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune file

Editorial: A last-minute save for NHL's season

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD
  • Star Tribune
  • January 7, 2013 - 8:14 PM

Let's play hockey -- finally.

The deal is yet to be sealed, and the details are not yet complete, but a tentative agreement between the National Hockey League and its players union should end the labor lockout that very nearly erased the entire season, just as the 2004-05 campaign was scrapped due to a similar squabble over money.

If, as expected, the new collective bargaining agreement is ratified this week, there will likely be a truncated 48- to 50-game regular season. That's well short of the usual 82-game marathon, but it would still result in Stanley Cup playoffs taking place well past ice-out even in Canada, hockey's heartland.

Here in the "State of Hockey," the resumption of play would be great news not just for fans of the hometown Minnesota Wild. The city of St. Paul and hard-hit businesses and employees -- including many who work for the Wild -- should finally begin to recover from steep setbacks resulting from canceled games.

It would also be great news for the Xcel Energy Center, the Wild's home arena. Xcel, like many NHL facilities, was built with considerable public financing -- a fact seemingly disregarded by both players and league officials as they fought over their respective slices of the record $3.3 billion the league reportedly took in last season.

Of course, not all will be cheering. Many former fans will understandably remain angry. Still others have already become apathetic, which should worry Wild players and management even more.

And who could blame anyone for being repulsed by the grotesque greed? After all, the lockout locked out fans, too, who once again were taken for granted. This may be especially so regarding hockey: The sport has a fan base known for its depth, not its breadth, and both sides may have been banking on this passionate cohort to coalesce without significant attrition once the labor dispute was settled.

That may be the case, particularly in Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts, across Canada and in other hockey hotbeds. But maybe not in Sun Belt cities, where hockey remains a harder sell. In fact, the struggle to attract fans in those cities may mean that the share of revenue the players and league fought over will shrink, and not just for this shortened season.

While there are plenty of obvious losers, it's difficult to discern who "won" the labor dispute. Reports indicate that the new revenue split will be 50-50, compared with the recently expired deal that set aside about 57 percent of revenue for the players.

Maybe the best news is that it also appears the new agreement is for 10 years (with an out-clause after eight), compared with the previous seven-year deal. So time before the next negotiation should heal many, if not all, wounds.

Wild fans who can forgive or forget the labor dispute have several reasons to celebrate pro hockey's return, most notably the July 4 signings of high-profile free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, as well as other admirable efforts to improve the team.

Those players, as well as their teammates, should spend every possible moment letting fans know they are appreciated. Indeed, the Wild organization should be quick to realize that the lockout betrayed the pond-hockey ethos the team has so effectively marketed.

For the league, the best way to quickly recover is for both the NHL and the union to dump their respective leaders. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has had three lockouts in his 20-year tenure, resulting in the loss of about 2,400, or 10 percent, of regular-season games.

Donald Fehr, executive director of the National Hockey League Players' Association, nearly ruined hockey after damaging Major League Baseball by leading an ill-advised strike in 1994. Both have hurt the game with which they were entrusted.

Fortunately -- for the NHL, the players, the Wild and, most important, the fans -- hockey is stronger than the two men who nearly derailed the entire 2012-13 season.

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