SUN Hockey Pool

Hotchkiss fired up

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:59 AM ET

Emotionally spent following months as one of the NHL's chief negotiators, Flames co-owner Harley Hotchkiss said the CBA ratification yesterday means one thing for Calgary hockey fans.

"It means our franchise is going to be part of Calgary for as far as I can see," Hotchkiss told the Sun, breaking a lengthy silence.

"We knew going in that unless we could get an agreement along these lines, our future was doubtful.

"But now the franchise will stay in Calgary beyond my ownership, I'm sure, and it tells our fans they've got something that will be part of our city without any doubt."

After spending years warning the absence of cost-certainty could eventually lead to the Flames' departure, Hotchkiss triumphantly declared the NHL's darkest days have ended with an agreement that gives his club all it ever asked for -- a fair shot.

"We've got an agreement that will let us be competitive on a consistent basis and if we run it well, we can even get a return on our investment," said the NHL's chairman of the board of governors after flying from New York to Toronto to quietly celebrate the deal with his wife and son.

"I'm glad it's over. For me, I have to tell you it was emotional -- a great feeling of relief when it was ratified. A great sense of satisfaction not just for me or the ownership but for all of us in the game.

"I'm pleased we got an agreement I believe will work for all of us, which was our objective.

"We've got a foundation to build on and if we work together effectively -- and I believe we will -- it's a victory for all of us, including the fans."

Knowing full well there's plenty of work to be done to bridge the gap with a fan base alienated throughout the 310-day lockout, Hotchkiss is buoyed by news the club has sold an average of 100 season tickets a day over the last week.

"They've been through some tough years and I'm really looking forward to what we can do with the Flames under this new agreement," said Hotchkiss, who took as many as 20 flights a month -- including a trip from England for yesterday's ratification -- to help close the deal.

"I think it will improve the game and make it more exciting for the fans and I think it'll be a good agreement for the players because it gives them some certainty that franchises like ours will be there."

Hotchkiss firmly believes one of the most important elements of the new deal makes it easier for small-market teams like his to keep superstars like Jarome Iginla.

"I believe it gives us that opportunity and I would hope Jarome would see it that way, too," said Hotchkiss, pained by the fact he wasn't allowed to talk to players such as Iginla, whom he's quite close with.

"It's too early for me to say how much we'll spend on salaries this year -- we've got to remember this is brand new.

"A lot has happened and has to happen. I think you can count on our organization to act in a very responsible way and in the best interest of the city and the Flames. We'll digest it carefully and see how we can work most effectively within the system."

A wildly successful businessman whose bargaining ability is as storied as his philanthropic efforts, Hotchkiss said he's pleased the animosity between the two sides is over.

"I understand hard bargaining but what always bothered me is that there was not a more compatible relationship with our players," said Hotchkiss, one of eight Flames owners.

"When you look back in history we've always had great player relationships in Calgary, yet on a broader basis there was mistrust and I'm glad that is behind us."

So, too, is the uncertainty for his beloved Flames.


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