“Shit. Somebody didn’t get the memo.”

After a seemingly useless lockout that succeeded in updating Gary Bettman’s resume for ‘the worst commissioner in sports’ by dint of the third lockout on his watch, in costing working stiffs and bar owners untold millions, and in rendering me persona non grata at the Stool, a 48 game season is expected to start on Saturday, January 19th, possibly with all 30 teams in action. Training camps are expected to open on Sunday.

Much like I expected, the majority of owners not wanting to torpedo a whole season superseded the minority faction seemingly bent on breaking a union that practiced the very solidarity that it preached (certainly much better than it did in ‘04-’05 aka Bettman‘s 2nd Lockout). Or at least that’s what I took out of it. For the most part, I pulled a Jay Glazer and said, “Call me when it’s over” because there’s perhaps nothing more boring than reading about negotiations on a day-to-day basis. Otherwise worthwhile hockey follows on Twitter were getting skimmed past like so many Foursquare check-ins. And newspaper guys were making Fozzie Bear groan with their attempts at humor, that is when they weren’t shitting on the fans or the players.

Players were going to ‘lose’ no matter what and considering they had no real leverage going into this thing, they came out alright. Despite the league’s intentionally antagonistic lowball initial offer, the players went from 57% of the cut down to 50% with hardly a stink. There will now be a seven-year limit on free agent deals (eight for a team’s own player). The new CBA is good for 10 years (with a mutual opt out option after eight). A new pension system is in place. Less games are necessary to get your own room on the road.

Again, a lot of ticky-tack shit that could’ve been handled sooner. But the owners had a window and an opportunity to try to stick it to the NHLPA yet again. So they took it. This time, the players brought Donald Fehr and real resolve. Sure, they knew they were going to have to give back some of their slice of the pie but they just wanted to make sure that the bakery didn’t get robbed while they did so—Fehr ensured it didn’t.

The players will still make a nice wage for playing hockey without having to dial back the clock on their free agency rights to an era when mustaches were actual fashion accessories and not ironic cancer fundraisers. They never cried poor mouth—they just wanted the fair deal that they got. One player I talked to said that most guys were happy the deal.

Sure, it sucked not having the best league in the world for the last few months but it certainly wasn’t the end of the world. The NFL, Christmas, parties, Thanksgiving, killer TV shows, life, New Year’s, and plenty of other things conspired to keep me pretty occupied during the NHL drought. Life chugs along, man. But if the Super Bowl was played and there was no hockey to look forward to afterwards in the dead of winter, then there might have been some serious Heaven’s Gate shit going down all up in here.

Alas, hockey is returning with what will be a short, frenzied dash for the playoffs as soon as the season starts. It should be pretty good shit. I’ll be back next week with my annual Bruins season preview. In the meantime, enjoy these buds for your ‘hockey is back’ bowl…

*Kris Letang gets the lockout award for Worst Timing.

*I’ve heard a few people speculate that, due to his hardline lockout stance, Jeremy Jacobs will scare away any future free agents. But that’s a bunch of horseshit. If a guy is going to pay you for his services and his checks don’t bounce, you’ll sign with his team. This was no more indicative a year after the last lockout when an equally-hardline Jacobs managed to land two of the biggest FA gems on the market to forever alter his franchise—Zdeno Chara and Mark Savard.

*Channel 4’s Steve Burton had his ‘Dewey Defeats Truman‘ moment when he reported the lockout would be over…about five weeks too early. Though he hardly Tomase’d the thing to the point where people will instantly change the channel when he’s on in the same way they flip past John Tomase’s Herald stuff, but viewers will no doubt be skeptical about any future major scoops Burton purportedly gets. He swung for the fences but ended up popping up to second.

*After Vancouver 2011, I didn’t think it was possible for the booing of Bettman to get any louder/better. But I can’t wait for late June.

*The NFL and NBA didn’t lose fans. Neither will the NHL. If you’re gonna spend your time being mad at the NHL and/or NHLPA, you might as well be pissed off at gravity, too. Because it will have the same effect.

*Imagine you finally become a hockey writer and your first assignment is the lockout? That’s like getting a gig at Playboy and having to chart the Bunnies’ menstrual cycles.

*The Stars will be getting new unis in Big D. Anything has to be better than the third jersey gyno-chart they busted out years ago. That doozy had me half-expecting to see a speculum for the shoulder logo.

*Paul Kelly is the hill that Kevin DuPont will die on. Even if Kelly refuted his claims on Felger and Mazz the next day.

*Hey Gary, maybe take a hint from Habs goalie Carey Price on how to deal with coyotes.

*Stop watching ESPN expecting hockey and then bitching when it never comes. Their agenda could not be any more clear. On the other hand…

*NHL Network, do you know what your agenda is? Your league just went through a three-month lockout and you treated it like the New York Post did the last election results. Pretty bizarre, no? Considering, you know, you’re the NHL Network.

*It‘s nice to report that no former NHL enforcers died much too young since the end of last season. It was much better than the 2011 off-season when an overdose, a suicide, and a possible suicide cast a palpable cloud over the game and led many to cast blame squarely on the shoulders of fighting and the toll it can take on guys. However, in hindsight, the deaths look to be a trio of awkwardly timed tragedies each with their own set of circumstances more than any sort of pattern of death for guys that fought in the NHL. This isn’t to minimize the effects that fighting and concussions have on the human brain, as documented by the CTE clinic at BU, but rather to say it’s not quite the epidemic it was made out to be in the shadow of three tragic deaths last summer.

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