UPDATE, Jan. 12: The players have voted in favour of the deal and the NHL has released the full schedule. The 99-day long season will start on Saturday, Jan. 19 with 13 games. Canadian fans will be treated to a CBC tripleheader with the Senators facing the Jets, The Toronto Maple Leafs in Montreal against the Canadiens and Vancouver hosting the Anaheim Ducks. Calgary plays on Jan. 20 against San Jose and Edmonton Oilers start their season against Vancouver.
The hockey blight in Canada is over.
Are you still with us?
NHL fans can't be blamed for feeling a little beaten and battered (but at least not broke) after 119 days without hockey.
It's no surprise that there's plenty of talk about a fan boycott when the puck finally drops on this abbreviated season.
But for stalwarts -- the hockey-loving legions that will take their game any way they can get it -- a shortened season is better than no season at all.
And for those true-believers, we're keeping score. Here's what you need to know about the little season that could:
Firstly — and forgive us this last use of the dreaded L-word — the lockout isn't quite over. Neither players nor management has ratified the deal as of yet. But expect that to change soon. After a 16-hour stare-down between owners and players, much-maligned NHL commissioner Gary Bettman declared the "framework" of a deal had been agreed upon.
And both sides seem happy, or at least grudgingly content, with the terms.
That was Sunday.
Later today, as TSN reports, that shiny new collective bargaining agreement is expected to be signed by both sides.
Which leads us to the most important question -- when can we start shelling out for obscenely overpriced hot dogs and beer and actually get our game on?
We're not going to go out on a limb on this one. Too many wayward optimists have stumbled on that road before.
Instead, we'll take the NHL at its word, or at least the words of a league memo that emerged Sunday night:
"Depending on the timing of that process, and the NHLPA's ratification process that is proceeding on a parallel track (although somewhat slower), we anticipate that Training Camps will open sometime between Saturday, January 12 and Monday, January 14," read the memo.
"We are hoping that we will be in a position to commence a 48-game NHL Regular Season beginning on Saturday, January 19 (All of these dates remain tentative at this point)."
And still, so many questions to be answered over the next few days.
With so many players turning to European leagues during the loc--- err, L-word, will more than a few decide the grass is greener there?
And have trades been bottled up this whole time? Will they be unleashed in a frenzy as soon as the ink is dry on the new pact? Will marquee goaltender Roberto Luongo finally land in Toronto?
And have we mentioned the general manager of the league's most valuable team just got sacked?
All that intrigue. So little time. But it will all be just icing on the cake for the hockey-starved hordes looking to sink their teeth into Canada's game at last.
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