Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Puck drop delayed by mountain of details

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THE marathon bargaining session that led to agreement between the NHL and the NHL Players Association on the weekend has yielded to what seems like another marathon -- to get the league up and running again.

As of Monday, legal teams for both sides were still working on documentation so that the league's owners and players could hold separate ratification processes this week.

The owners are slated to convene in New York on Wednesday. A majority of the 30 will be required to approve the new 10-year labour agreement.

The players, numbering more than 700 members, will also conduct a vote this week and word Monday was that their approval process could take until Saturday. Again, a majority is required to implement the agreement.

That would put the opening of training camps to the weekend and almost certainly cements NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly's suggestion Monday a Jan. 19 start and 48-game regular-season as the only option left.

There had been some hope that a season could start in the middle of next week, allowing enough extra time to bulk up the season to 50 games but the volume of work on the legalities of ending the 113-day lockout requires time.

The schedule, whatever it turns out to be, will be games strictly within a team's own conference. That means the Jets will play again in the Southeast Division and only teams in the Eastern Conference and time zone this season.

On the technical side Monday, the league told teams they could open their doors to players, as well as have some contact with players and their agents, but that practices and coaching sessions were still not allowed.

Locally, while the MTS Centre ice plant has been turned on, no formal activity was taking place. Players continued their independent on-ice and off-ice workouts at the MTS Iceplex, as they have been doing since the labour impasse began on Sept. 15.

Monday at the Iceplex, Jets centre Olli Jokinen, since last July to a two-year, $9-million deal, broke his personal silence brought on by the frustration of the lockout.

He has been through two NHL lockouts at a personal price tag of more than $4 million in salary.

"It's good we can put that behind us," Jokinen said Monday. "The next time I'm not going to be around, so the term, 10 years, is good.

"It's embarrassing to be in a position like this, that we're the sport that every time there's a CBA that expires, you know there's going to be a lockout. That's been the case."

Jets centre Bryan Little, who like Jokinen has been a regular participant at the Iceplex during the work stoppage, said he was turning his attention from business to readiness.

"I think our goal is just to make the playoffs," Little said. "That was our goal last year and we had a pretty good season other than a few weeks. Short season or not, we just have to get in."

Jokinen said the unsavoury business of the recent four months will change some things, and he's prepared for just about anything when the action begins for real.

"This is not fun for anyone," Jokinen said. "It's not fun for the owners. It's not fun for the players and it's definitely not fun for the fans.

"They have all the reasons to be angry. If nobody shows up at our games, I respect that, too."

And if fans outwardly express their displeasure?

"That's fine," Jokinen said. "They're the ones who probably suffered most."


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 8, 2013 C1

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