Monday, January 7, 2013

Blues players anxious to get going; Happy to see the lockout conclude

By Andrew Allsman| Posted: January 7, 2012| Contact  |

The lockout that wiped out nearly half of the 2012-13 season has come to an end. The NHL enacted the lockout on Sept. 15, and it took 113 more days to reach an agreement. Several Blues players took to the ice at Hardee’s Ice Plex in Chesterfield Sunday evening to get in some practice before training camp begins. The players that were in St. Louis included: Brian Elliott, T.J. Oshie, Andy McDonald, Alex Pietrangelo, and David Backes. 

None of those players were present in New York Sunday morning when the deal was tentatively agreed upon, but all found out in a similar way. 

“I woke up and checked my phone; had a bunch of text messages and knew something was up, said McDonald. When I went to bed last night I knew they were close and figured late last night or today we would have a deal.”

T.J. Oshie said he had more than 20 text messages congratulating him.

“I’m excited, a little nervous to get out there, but definitely excited. I think of it as being like Christmas day when you’re ten years old. You’re so excited; you've waited so long for it to get here. It’s been tough on everyone, especially the fans that have been waiting for this to happen. It’s great that it is all over and that we can get back to playing the game we love.”

Multiple reports indicate that the players will have to wait until at least the weekend for training camp to open, but after waiting more than three months to get back on the ice, the wait is nothing. Upon hearing the news that the lockout had ended, players immediately upped their workouts, in anticipation for training camp.

“I’m more motivated today for sure, said McDonald. No one knows the exact date of when camp will get started, but it is going to be soon. Guys are excited. It’s been really frustrating at times, but we are really glad it is over and we are really looking forward to getting going.”

“Sunday's practice was a little more up-tempo, said Backes. There was a sense of: we have to get ready for the season, and hopefully we are ready for opening night, whenever that is.”

The Blues are looking to build upon their 109-point season under Jack Adams Award-winning coach Ken Hitchcock. Teams are waiting to find out their schedule, and how many games they will be playing. Some reports indicate that if a deal is ratified quickly that as many as 50 games could be played; others say 48 games is the more likely number. Regardless, the shortened season is expected to be intense, with each point worth even more than what it is in an 82-game season.

“Each game is going to have that playoff-type atmosphere, said Backes. We always said two points are huge with an 82-game season, and those two points are going to be even bigger in a 50-game season.”

Players are anxious to get going, especially after coming so close to seeing another season cancelled due to a work stoppage. Progress was halted late last week when sides had a disagreement on the language of hockey-related revenue (HRR). A federal mediator stepped in to get the sides back to the table. There were a few players that spent much of last week in New York trying to reach a deal with the owners according to McDonald.

“Guys like Jamal Mayers, Shane Doan, Marty St. Louis, Mathieu Darche, were there most of the week grinding it out; a deal doesn’t get done without guys like that that are willing to sacrifice time with their families, and the whole membership appreciates their effort.”

Both McDonald and Backes were commonly found in New York representing the union in talks. Both elected to stay in North America, and both were well informed about the negotiations. The players were able to get a much better deal than what was expected, but the most important question is: how will fans respond? Many were angered by the process, but on Sunday, social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook were filled with posts from overjoyed fans who were just happy to see the game return.

“It’s still surreal that it has been such a roller coaster of ups and downs, said Backes. It’s been a road of trials and tribulations. It’s great to be back, and to potentially have a 50-game season ahead of us. We are going to have a great product on the ice. The fans deserve the game on the ice, and hopefully we still have a full building. All of those fans deserve a lot of credit for sticking with us through the business side, the ugly side of the sport.”

Added Mcdonald:

“It is certainly understandable (that fans are angry). Look how well the league did last year. Revenue has gone up, so has players’ salaries. It’s understandable that they are angry that half the season is cancelled. It is expected. It’s our job now to try and win them back, and the best way to do that is to put a great product out on the ice. In St. Louis I personally think the response has been pretty positive. The fans have always been very supportive here. They’re excited. We have to appreciate that because frustration is expected.”

The new CBA is ten years in length with the option to ‘opt-out after eight seasons. The players are hoping that this past lockout is the last, and that stability can be formed in a league that has been lockout-prone since commissioner Gary Bettman took over 20 years ago.

“With a ten-year deal we hopefully don’t have to see this again for awhile, said McDonald. Hopefully the game will grow; grow with more fans, and everyone will continue to love the sport.”

“We have 8-10 years of peace. Baseball has it figured out. They tweak the system, nobody looks for these drastic changes, said Backes. You don’t end up with labor stoppages and time lost, and momentum lost. You see other sports that are ahead of ‘the hockey-curve’ because they haven’t had these extended stoppages. First we have to work to get fans back and let them know that we haven’t forgotten about them, and we appreciate their support.”

The Blues are expected to have a brief training camp (7-10 days) starting within the next week. The Blues aren't worried about camp being short, and welcome the challenge. Until then the Blues are working on their conditioning, and getting back into 'hockey-shape'. Some of the Blues' players haven't played in an organised game since May.

“Typically for an in-season practice we are focused on what broke down, improving our power play, our defensive game, etc. Here we are trying to stay in shape, and keep our hands and minds going,” said Oshie. "(Training camp) is going to be hard, and I’m hoping it is. We want to be ready for that first game; for that first drop of the puck.”

Fans are ready for that 'first drop of the puck' as well.

Quotes taken from KTRS, and David Solomon.