At the Ice Den in Scottsdale Monday morning, it looked like the NHL labor stoppage never happened. About 30 players were on the ice for open skate, a scene we’ve witnessed several times over the last few months. But this time was different.
After a 113-day lockout, the NHL and the players’ union agreed to the framework of a deal that could get the players back on the ice competing in games as soon as mid-January.
“Excited, but I’ll believe it when I see it I guess,” said Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith Monday after the open skate. “Obviously there’s a different energy in the air now that we’ve come to an agreement so it’s definitely an exciting time.”
Smith, like several other NHL players, received an early morning text with the news of the new deal.
“I was sleeping, actually. (Shane Doan) took five days to get back to me,” Smith said. “I texted him on January 1st to wish Happy New Year and see how everything was going and six days later I get a text back at 3:30 in the morning, which would be 5:30 for him, so I kind of was easy on him.”
The NHL is devising a reported 48-game schedule due to the work stoppage, which forced the cancellation of at least 480 games.
Smith said that will also create some new challenges.
“There’s new faces in the locker room and people coming and going, so hopefully we can jell together quick as a team and kind of build off that momentum that seems like it was so long ago with the playoff run that we had last season.”
Smith did say that there is one positive — everybody was dealing with the same lockout and the same amount of time away from the game they love.
“You know obviously there are some challenges but everyone is in the same boat. There’s no advantages to anyone that’s been sitting out this long,” reiterated Smith.
“There have been players that have been playing in Europe but a lot of guys have been playing since August. Hopefully they aren’t all tired out, or at least our guys aren’t, and everyone can get ready and get on board from day one.”
This past weekend, the two sides spent more than 16 hours in tense talks with a mediator to get this framework drawn up. It’s a ten-year labor contract that still has to be ratified by the 30 team owners and approximately 740 players.