NHL Needs To Win Back Fans [VIDEO/POLL]
As NHL players prepare to ratify a new agreement with owners, the league will embark on a campaign to win back fans to a lockout shortened season.
ESPN.com reports that the league sent a memo out to teams last night that a 48-game season will likely begin on January 19. However, if the ratification goes quickly, a 50-game season could begin on January 15.
NHL Players Association Executive Director Donald Fehr tells ESPN, "We'll get back to what we used to call business as usual just as fast as we can," he said.
The NHL's Board Of Governors will meet on Wednesday to vote on the deal and a schedule will not be released until that meeting according to CBSSports.com which expects a schedule of intraconference games-only. The league played a similar schedule in the strike-shortened 1994-95 season.
The New Jersey Devils have four players still overseas, including star forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who could well become the team's captain now that forward Zach Parise is in Minnesota.
Several members of the Philadelphia Flyers, including Claude Giroux (neck) and his Flyers teammate, forward Danny Briere (wrist), were injured in their European stints. Giroux is expected to be ready for training camp. Briere's status is unknown.
Flyers owner Ed Snider had a simple message on the day the NHL lockout ended: Welcome back.
Lost in the squabble between the league and players over the 113-day labor dispute was how the hardcore fans were losing interest with each messy board room update from an idle sport. Keeping the faith turned into planning boycotts. The Winter Classic gave way to the winter doldrums for even the most passionate fans in hockey-mad markets.
One of the questions that arises now, of course, and after any sort of stoppage for that matter, is will the fans come back? This is the third labor dispute in Commissioner Gary Bettman's tenure, and though the fans returned in the past, the jury is out this time.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.