It's official: NHL lockout is over
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When the Penguins finished a late afternoon practice Saturday at Southpointe, they were not concerned that the end of the lockout still was not official.
"For me it's just a formality now," said new winger Tanner Glass.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury wasn't planning a celebration. He had already had his.
"To tell you the truth, I think I really got excited when they got a deal early [last Sunday] morning," Fleury said. "That was the best wake-up ever. Finally. So, even though it's not official yet, I had my [celebration] then."
Surely, though, they noticed several hours later when the NHL and the NHL Players' Association signed a memorandum of understanding, affirming support for the new, 10-year collective bargaining agreement and officially ending the lockout imposed by owners 119 days earlier.
The NHL and the players union reached agreement on a new CBA a week ago, but there were still a couple of hurdles. The board of governors ratified the CBA Wednesday. The players followed, in a 36-hour electronic vote that ended at 8 a.m. Saturday.
The final step was for both sides to complete and sign a memorandum of understanding, a legal document that verifies what the sides voted for. That paved the way for the league to open training camps today and get back to business as usual.
Well, perhaps not quite as per usual. Opening a camp in mid-January is far from the norm.
The season has been shortened from 82 games per team to 48. The Penguins' schedule will start Saturday with a matinee at rival Philadelphia that will be televised regionally by NBC. It is one of 13 opening-day games and a rematch of a first-round playoff matchup last spring that was won by the Flyers in six games.
The Penguins' home opener is Jan. 23 against Toronto. In between, they will play the Rangers Sunday night in New York as the second part of one of seven sets of back-to-back games.
Teams will play games only within their conference.
The Penguins anticipated everything being sewn up Saturday. Four players who had been with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League were in town and joined in what the players figured would be their final informal practice.
Those were forwards Eric Tangradi, Beau Bennett and Jayson Megna, and defenseman Simon Despres. In addition, there was an empty stall with a nameplate for another Wilkes-Barre defenseman, Brian Strait, in the team locker room at Southpointe.
The Penguins who had been in town skated regularly at Southpointe, buying ice time and using a public locker room after the lockout began in mid-September. They switched to Consol Energy Center or the team's locker facilities at Southpointe after the league and union agreed in principal on a new CBA a week ago.
The Penguins are expected to undergo their regular preseason physicals and testing today, followed by an afternoon practice at Southpointe. For the first time since last season, coaches can run practice.
A handful of regulars skipped the practice Saturday, including Sidney Crosby, but the number participating in the informal, player-organized skates had grown over the week as players anticipated the start of the season.
"It's great just to be back here, new guys coming in every day," Fleury said.
Although delivering the memorandum of understanding was not considered an insurmountable chore, getting it signed took some time.
Now, players can shift their focus to their craft.
"I'm focused on the hockey part of it," Glass said. "Whenever they say go, I'll go. But I'm focused on training camp and being ready when the coach explains the first drill and blows the first whistle."
First Published January 13, 2013 12:00 am