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They’re Baaaaaaaack!

The four-month lockout is over and NHL players are returning to the ice this week. Will disgruntled and casual fans return as well?

By Kevin Kurtt
Let’s Play Hockey Editor

Let’s Play Hockey! It’s those three words that have started every Minnesota Wild home game since the franchise’s inception in 2000. And it’s those three words that the NHL owners and players consistently ignored since the collective bargaining agreement expired and the lockout began at 11:59 p.m., on Sept. 15, 2012.

For nearly four months, a bunch of billionaires argued with a bunch of millionaires over how much money each side was owed from a game that most of us pay to play.

And now, hockey’s back. Or more accurately, NHL hockey is back. Hockey, especially in Minnesota, never went anywhere. Only the version with the billionaire owners and millionaire players went away for a few months.

College hockey didn’t go away. In fact, in Minnesota, it’s perhaps stronger than ever with both the men and women Golden Gophers ranked No. 1 in the nation.

High school hockey didn’t go away. Nearly every night, from mid-November to mid-March, a local arena is rocking with pep bands, cheerleaders and student sections urging on their hometown heroes.

Youth hockey didn’t go away. Every day, hockey moms and dads are shuttling their little forwards, defensemen and goalies for before-school practices, league games at nearby arenas and tournament games in outstate locales.

Adult hockey didn’t go away. Late every night, beer-leaguers and weekend warriors strap on their skates and stretch out their aging muscles, enjoying the game that is so much a part of the fabric of this state.

And disabled hockey didn’t go away. In fact, Special, Sled, Amputee and Warrior Hockey have seen strong growth in recent years both locally and nationally.

Get ready for the disingenuous apologies, the “Thank You Fans!” painted on the ice, the ticket deals attempting to entice a disgruntled fan back to an NHL arena.

There’s no doubt that the lockout will have little effect on diehard NHL fans. Most hockey insiders predict that the league’s ardent devotees will cheerfully return to the game like they did following the season-long lockout of 2004-05. They are the fans who can easily forgive and forget what the NHL and the NHLPA put them through for the past four months.

I am not that fan.

I’ve always been a casual NHL fan, and specifically, a casual Minnesota Wild fan. And this lockout ensures that I’ll continue to be just that – casual with my following of the world’s top hockey league and the State of Hockey’s team.

The NHL in Minnesota had a chance to win over this casual fan, and probably scores of people like me, with the blockbuster July 4th signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. (Isn’t it ironic that it was those identical 13-year, $98 million contracts and others like them, that played a large role in the owners locking out the players?)

In the July 12, 2012 edition of Let’s Play Hockey, I wrote, “I am genuinely excited about watching the 2012-13 edition of the Minnesota Wild with a Minnesota native as its superstar. From October to April, I’m a casual Minnesota Wild fan. The game broadcasts on Fox Sports North basically serve as a background for whatever else is happening in my family room that night. Not anymore.”

But the lockout killed my excitement. It dulled my enthusiasm for seeing Parise, Suter and Finnish phenom Mikael Granlund for the first time in a Wild sweater. The momentum gained by those Independence Day signings – a momentum that resulted in over 2,000 new season tickets sold a short time later – has been lost.

Sure, I’ll still watch. I’m certainly curious to see if the new acquisitions will translate into on-ice success for the Minnesota Wild. But where once I was excited to turn on the TV for a Wild broadcast or maybe even buy tickets to take my two young sons to a game, now I’ll likely revert to my casual following of the local squad. Sure, the channel on my TV will inevitably make its way to Fox Sports North for the broadcast of that night’s game, but more times than not, the Wild games will likely be an afterthought in the Kurtt household.

Perhaps Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr don’t care about me or fans like me. Perhaps it’s those diehard fans who flock to NHL arenas in customized jerseys with the name of their favorite player stitched across the back that Bettman and Fehr really care about ... and are banking on returning to the game. If that’s the case, it’s a shortsighted view for a league that has been, and will continue to be, the fourth of the four major professional sports leagues in North America.

Keep in mind, I’m already a hockey fan ... in Minnesota, the self-proclaimed State of Hockey. What about those potential hockey fans in Phoenix, Miami and Tampa who have all but forgotten about the Coyotes, Panthers and Lightning while the owners and players squabbled over their share of the record $3.3 billion the league took in last season? Those Sun Belt teams, and several others across the league, are in dire straits financially and attendance-wise, so it’s clear the lockout did those franchises no good.

So what purpose did this lockout serve? Well, the owners got pretty much what they were looking for – a 50/50 split of league revenue. And the players retained a lot of the contract rights and added a nice pension plan. In a way, both sides were winners. They’ll both go back to the arenas, raking in millions of dollars off of the real losers of this four-month charade – the fans.

So whether you’re a diehard hockey fan who will gleefully return to cheer on the best hockey players in the world, or a casual fan like me who will enjoy having another diversion on cold winter nights, there’s one thing we can agree on: It sure will be fun to hear the crowd lustily boo Bettman when he presents the Stanley Cup this summer.


The 2013 Minnesota Wild

# Name Position
32 Nicklas Backstrom G
96 Pierre-Marc Bouchard  LW
21 Kyle Brodziak C
22 Cal Clutterbuck LW
7 Matt Cullen C
18 Jake Dowell C
44 Justin Falk RD
77 Tom Gilbert RD
37 Josh Harding G
15 Dany Heatley RW
42 Matt Kassian RW
9 Mikko Koivu C
28 Zenon Konopka C
17 Torrey Mitchell RW
11 Zach Parise LW
14 Darroll Powe RW
39 Nate Prosser LD
10 Devin Setoguchi RW
46 Jared Spurgeon RD
4 Clayton Stoner LD
20 Ryan Suter LD
19 Stephane Veilleux LW


Highlights of the new CBA

Here’s a look at some of the highlights (according to reports) of the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association:
• CBA will run for 10 years with a mutual opt-out after eight years.
• Owners and players split revenue 50/50 each season, with the players receiving $300 million in deferred “make-whole payments” to ease the transition from previous system.
• Salary cap of $70.2 million for the 2012-13 season followed by a salary cap of $64.3 million in 2013-14 with a salary floor of $44 million.
• Seven-year limit on free-agent contracts (eight-year limit when a team re-signs its own player).
• Maximum salary variance of 35 percent from year to year; no more than a 50 percent total difference between any two seasons in the contract.
• Minimum salary starts at $525,000; increases to $750,000 for the final year of the agreement.
• Revenue sharing increased to $200 million annually.
• Two “amnesty buyouts” per team that can be used to terminate contracts; the buyouts will not count against the salary cap.
• All 14 non-playoff teams will be eligible to win the No. 1 overall draft pick.
• Suspensions longer than six games go to an independent third party for appeal.
• NHL players in the Olympics and realignment will be agreed upon outside of the CBA.


The Minnesota Wild in the offseason

Date Event
April 7 Minnesota loses 4-1to Phoenix to close out the 2011-12 season
April 10 Wild awarded seventh overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
April 24 Houston Aeros fall 5-2 to the Oklahoma City Barons in Game 4 of the AHL’s Western Conference Quarterfinals, losing the series 3-1
May 4-20 Six current/future members of the Minnesota Wild – Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund (Finland), Matt Hackett (Canada), Jonas Brodin, Johan Larsson (Sweden), Dennis Endras (Germany) – take part in the 2012 IIHF World Championships
May 10 Defenseman Clayton Stoner re-signed to two-year contract extension
May 10 Wild adds the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL as a minor-league affiliate
May 11 Wild prospect Charlie Coyle earns QMJHL Playoff MVP honors; Coyle and fellow prospect Zack Phillips lead Saint John to the QMJHL championship
May 15 Anthony LaPanta named new TV play-by-play announcer, replacing Dan Terhaar
May 23 Forward Mikael Granlund signed to a three-year, entry-level contract
May 31 Goaltender Johan Gustafsson signed to a three-year, entry-level contract
June 19 Goaltender Josh Harding re-signed to three-year contract
June 21 Minnesota Wild 2011-12 regular season schedule released
June 22 Defenseman Mathew Dumba selected seventh overall in 2012 NHL Entry Draft
June 23 Left wing Raphael Bussieres, defenseman John Draeger, center Adam Gilmour, defenseman Daniel Gunnarsson, center Christoph Bertschy and left wing Louie Nanne selected in the NHL Entry Draft
June 25 Center Chad Rau re-signed to two-year, two-way contract
June 25 Left wing Stephane Veilleux re-signed to one-year contract
June 25 Qualifying offers made to center Cody Almond, goalie Dennis Endras, defenseman Justin Falk, defenseman Chay Genoway, center David McIntyre, right wing Carson McMillan, right wing Jarod Palmer and right wing Nick Palmieri
June 29 Left wing Matt Kassian re-signed to two-year contract
June 29 Defenseman Chay Genoway re-signed to two-year contract
July 1 Free agent center Zenon Konopka signed to two-year contract
July 1 Free agent forward Torrey Mitchell signed to three-year contract
July 4 Free agent center Jake Dowell signed to two-year contract
July 4 Free agent left wing Zach Parise and free agent defenseman Ryan Suter signed to 13-year contracts
July 5 Defenseman Justin Falk re-signed to one-year contract
July 6 Free agent defenseman Brian Connelly signed to two-year, two way contract
July 9-15 Minnesota Wild and Xcel Energy Center hold development camp
July 17 Defenseman Mathew Dumba signed to three-year, entry level contract
Sept. 14 Re-signed forwards David McIntyre, Carson McMillan and Jarod Palmer to two-way, one-year contracts
Sept. 15 Lockout begins
Jan. 6 Lockout ends