National Hockey League teams are racing to prepare for the start of a lockout-shortened season that begins in five days.
NHL teams began training camps over the weekend after the league’s 700-player union ratified a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement, ending a 117-day lockout. After one week of training, NHL teams will play 48 games each -- an average of 3 1/2 games per week -- leading up to the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs on April 30.
“It’s going to be a sprint,” New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist told reporters yesterday. “It’s going to be a lot of games coming up fast and you just have to be mentally and physically prepared for it.”
A total of 13 games will be played on Jan. 19, including the Rangers, with newly acquired right wing Rick Nash, against the Boston Bruins. The Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings face the Chicago Blackhawks, while the New Jersey Devils face the New York Islanders, and Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins meet the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Rangers and Penguins enter the season as co-favorites to win the Stanley Cup at 8-1 odds, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book. They’re followed by the Kings at 9-1 odds, the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks at 10-1, and the Bruins and Detroit Red Wings at 12-1.
“There’s a sense of urgency out there,” the Rangers’ Nash said. “In a shortened season, it’s the team that comes out the quickest, gels the quickest and gains chemistry. We’re trying to work on that. We understand that we play in five or six days and we have to be ready.”
The players approved the new agreement three days after the NHL’s Board of Governors voted in favor of the pact during a Jan. 9 meeting in New York.
The agreement calls for the owners and players to split hockey-related revenues equally. It also includes terms that limit the length of individual player contracts to seven years, or eight when a team is re-signing its own player, and regulates the compensation structure, year-to-year variability and defining minimum value.
The CBA also features a new defined benefit pension plan for the players and enhanced revenue-sharing among the clubs.
The world’s top professional hockey league and its players’ union agreed on the contract’s framework Jan. 6, ending the shutdown that began Sept. 16 and forced the cancellation of 625 games, or 51 percent of the original schedule with each team playing 82 games.
The lockout also forced the cancellation of this year’s outdoor Winter Classic game on New Year’s Day and the All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio.
The NHL, which had $3.3 billion in revenue last season, gave up about $1 billion to get the 10-year deal that reduced the players’ share of the earnings to 50 percent, the New York Times reported without saying where it got the information.
The work stoppage was the second time in recent years that owners shut the league down following the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement.
The previous lockout resulted in the loss of the 2004-05 season, the only time a complete schedule of one of North America’s four major pro sports leagues was wiped out in a labor dispute. It also was the first year since 1919 that the Stanley Cup wasn’t awarded.
In the 1994-95 season, a lockout ended Jan. 11 and a 48-game schedule began on Jan. 20.
The newest dispute was focused on how players and owners would split revenue that grew 50 percent by last season from $2.2 billion in 2003-04. Under the previous agreement, players received 57 percent, or $1.9 billion, of league revenue.
The collective bargaining agreement runs through the 2021-22 season, with both sides having the right to opt out after eight years, according to the provisions.
Before the start of the 2011-12 season, the average NHL player salary was $2.4 million, up from about $1.5 million at the start of the 2005-06 season.
In comparison, National Basketball Association players made an average of $5.15 million, the highest among North America’s four major sports leagues, for 2011-12. The average salary for a National Football League player was $1.9 million, the lowest of the four leagues, with Major League Baseball’s $3.3 million average salary ranking second behind the NBA.
Lundqvist said he’s excited to be back with teammates and focused on preparing for the season instead of a labor dispute.
“We’re going to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do well, but we have to realize it’s a tough league and there’s a lot of teams that can win this year,” Lundqvist said. “You have to perform at top level, but you need a lot of things to go your way. The things you can control are how hard you work and the attitude you have.”