The long wait for NHL hockey is over.
Skates and sticks will replace suits and briefcases for a Sunday opening of training camps after players voted massively in favour of a new collective bargaining agreement to end the nearly four-month old lockout.
However, it took hours after the players’ vote for the two sides to complete a written memorandum of understanding consistent with what the players voted on that had to be completed before the CBA became final. That was finalized late Saturday night.
Camps and other business could not begin until the deal was completed.
The 36-hour electronic voting process for the players ended Saturday morning, reportedly with 98.2 per cent saying yes to the deal and only 12 voting against it.
The league’s 30 clubs are eager to get started on a seven-day, hurry-up camp to get ready for a 48-game schedule beginning on Jan. 19.
And a string of announcements are expected from teams that have been barred from signing players and making deals since the lockout started on Sept. 15.
The league ratified the deal on Wednesday.
Teams will not have their usual 50-plus players in a short camp, but there are intriguing questions about who will make their teams.
Especially among a group of young stars knocking on the door.
In Edmonton, they’re already talking about line combinations involving first overall draft pick Nail Yakupov and how much promising free agent signing Justin Schultz will play on the defence.
Oilers coach Ralph Krueger, with young talents Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins back from the AHL, can finally start work on his first NHL job.
Others like centre Mark Scheifele in Winnipeg, defenceman Morgan Reilly in Toronto, forward Mikhail Grigorenko in Buffalo and forward Alex Galchenyuk in Montreal also have a shot at making their teams.
The Calgary Flames and their new coach Bob Hartley can also take a look at their top prospect Sven Baertschi, who looked good in a brief call-up from the junior Portland Winterhawks late last season.
Captain Jarome Iginla’s side needs to integrate off-season acquisitions Dennis Wideman and Jiri Hudler into the lineup, not to mention former KHL scoring star Roman Cervenka.
The Leafs begin amid the turmoil of general manager Brian Burke’s abrupt firing this week, leaving Dave Nonis to deal with concerns in goal. A top newcomer is big forward James Van Riemsdyk. A concern is the health of injured defenceman Jake Gardiner.
Montreal begins with new general manager Marc Bergevin and a new coaching staff led by Michel Therrien trying to dig their way out of last place in the Eastern Conference. New faces are Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong and Francis Bouillon, but the biggest change would be having both defenceman Andrei Markov and captain Brian Gionta back from major injuries.
Second-year coach Paul MacLean in Ottawa will be looking to build on last season’s surprise jump to the playoffs, led by a Norris Trophy season from Erik Karlsson. The Sens have added scoring punch in winger Guillaume Latendresse.
The Jets have bolstered their attack with Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky, and have star forward Evander Kane starting on a six-year contract extension.
The Vancouver Canucks are unchanged, although they open camp with second-line centre Ryan Kesler recovering from wrist and shoulder surgery.
Fans in Minnesota will be excited to see marquee acquisitions Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, who together signed contracts worth US$198 million.
And there could be fun in Florida, where veterans Alex Kovalev and Marek Svatos were invited to camp, although former Canadien and Nashville Predator Andrei Kostitsyn declined in order to stay in the KHL.
The Stanley Cup finalist New Jersey Devils, who lost Parise, are expected to wait until midweek for their scoring leader Ilya Kovalchuk to show up after staying behind to play in the KHL all-star game.
The Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings, have their entire team back, which could be a major plus with a short camp. There will be no new players or system to break in. Star forward Anze Kopitar is to miss the start of the season with a knee injury, however.
The Boston Bruins begin camp with veteran goalie Tim Thomas on sabbatical, with Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin now sharing the net.
Nearly 200 players found work for varying lengths of time in Europe during the lockout. They and the players on two-way contracts who skated in the AHL should be ahead on conditioning compared to the majority who worked out in gyms at home and skated a few times on city rinks.
A tentative agreement to end the lockout was reached last week on the 113th day of the lockout.
The two sides finally got a deal completed after a 16-hour negotiating session in New York and assistance from federal mediator Scot L. Beckenbaugh.
The deal is for 10 years, but either side can opt out after eight. The previous collective bargaining agreement was in effect for seven seasons.
The lockout forced the cancellation of 510 games, including the Winter Classic and all-star game.
Schedules were being released in some cities even before the memorandum was final, and the full schedule was to follow.
No pre-season games will be played.
Many NHL players have taken part in informal skates at practice rinks over the last week to prepare for the shortened camp and season.