SUN Hockey Pool

Tentative NHL deal done

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:29 AM ET

In terms of excitement, you can be forgiven if news of the NHL's tentative agreement ranked somewhere between nursing a hangover and watering your lawn yesterday.

Oh sure, you may have phoned your spouse or e-mailed your pals to inform them the most damaging labour stoppage in pro sports history had inched ever-closer to a conclusion.

But the truth is, little changed yesterday.

The deal has yet to be ratified, the public details have not been confirmed, we're months from puck drop and no one outside of the owners has a firm grasp on exactly what the proposed new world will look like.

And while that didn't stop players from reacting positively to a deal they know little about yesterday, the truth is most fans have long since stopped caring about a game Ken Dryden so aptly described as a habit, not a passion.

Abandoned and disrespected for more than 300 days of rhetoric and posturing, fans have long been of the mindset, "call us when you get it fixed."

Well, nothing's fixed yet.

Even in Calgary, where fans of the Stanley Cup finalists were perhaps the most affected by the lockout, any hootin' and hollerin' 'round the 'Dome or Red Mile yesterday revolved around cowboys and cowgirls, not hockey players. Imagine how little the people of Nashville or Miami care?

Across Canada, most casual fans are nowhere near ready to forgive or forget just yet. It's too soon.

No doubt the Flames' opening night will see a mixed response from fans who, by night's end, will stand to cheer the players they once idolized and the game they once missed. By Christmas, memories of the lockout will fade and by spring the Red Mile will be abuzz with more playoff fever.

But that's a long time from now.

In the meantime, there are so many questions surrounding the draft, rule changes, CBA specifics and player signings. As each issue is addressed, fans will get more and more in tune with the game's revival.

Fittingly, the healing process could begin as early as next week when with the intriguing process of determining Sidney Crosby's fate plays out. Leave it to a junior star to help revitalize the NHL.

The draft itself should also get juices flowing again as will the rash of free agent signings, the implementation of new rules and the departure of Bob Goodenow. Seeing the players' lost leader forced from the game he so badly damaged would be topped only by footage of him wearing a shirt reading, 'I went through the war of '04 and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.'

Make no mistake, news that both sides have finally come to terms on a new CBA is a breakthrough. But given the uncertainty ahead and the carnage behind, too much apathy has crept in for anyone to do cartwheels just yet.

Ratify the deal, inform the fans what the new world will look like and only then can interest build.

Until then, there's more interest in tonight's chucks or this morning's pancake breakfast.

Talk of Wayne Gretzky's coaching fate, Todd Bertuzzi's playing status and the relocation of Scott Niedermayer, Nikolai Khabibulin or Markus Naslund will slowly remind us of the discussions that used to dominate bars, living rooms and offices.

But as we found out last winter, hockey is a diversion we can all live quite nicely without, thank you.

So there's nothing wrong with admitting yesterday's news gave you little more than a small sense of relief. It's what the league does from here on that will determine how fast enthusiasm regenerates.


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