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by Ken Schott

Parting Schotts

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NHL lockout ends; fans react

In the early hours of Sunday morning, 113 days of frustration came to an end when the NHL and its players finally reached a tentative deal on a new collective bargaining agreement that ends the lockout imposed by the league. If both sides vote in favor of it (and they darn well better), then the NHL will start its shortened season some time next week.

As a big hockey fan, I'm glad a deal was struck. But unlike the 2004-05 lockout, which led to the cancellation of the season, this lockout was far more damaging. Back in 2004-05, there were more issues to deal with than financial. The game was dealing with the boring neutral-zone trap that was stifling offense. Several rule changes helped open up the game, and it became exciting. And there was the Winter Classic that brought hockey outdoors on New Year's Day and helped outshine college bowl games that day. That helped draw disgruntled fans back.

But what can the NHL do now to lure those disgruntled fans back? Lowering prices on tickets, concessions, food and drink and parking would be a start. Giving fans a free Center Ice package this season would be a plus. And maybe, FINALLY, getting rid of the stupid blackout rule that prevents New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders fans from watching their teams games when the Buffalo Sabres are at home and have to be televised. Fat chance of that happening, though.

This lockout made no sense. The game was making $3.3 billion. It has a long-term TV contract with NBC. The Los Angeles Kings' first Stanley Cup championship last summer brought attention to the sport in Southern California.

If teams were hurting financially, why were many of them signing players right until the start of the lockout in mid-September? That was asinine.

Both NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players Association director Donald Fehr should be ashamed of themselves for letting the lockout drag on as long as it did. There should have been an easy way for the two sides to come to an agreement. It became a battle of two egotistical, pigheaded men who were hoping the other would crack. If it wasn't for federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh keeping both sides talking this week, the NHL as we know it would have blown up on Jan. 11, the drop-dead date to cancel the season if an agreement wasn't reached.

And Fehr should have known better. He was the head of the Major League Baseball Players Association when the players went on strike in August of 1994, and that ultimately led to the cancellation of the remainder of the season and World Series. Did he want his legacy to have two sport seasons canceled?

I believe that once the agreement is ratified, Bettman and Fehr should resign. They have done enough irreparable damage to the game. And if Bettman doesn't leave, I hope he resumes his weekly talk show on NHL Network and is forced to listen to the fans rip into him.

Painting "Thank you fans" on the ice isn't going to win fans over. Owners should get used to half-empty buildings for a while.

And for you players -- you better give everything you've got. If you take a shift off, expect the fans to boo the living heck out of you.

It's going to take the NHL a long time to recover from this stupid lockout.

I asked for the fans' reaction on Twitter and Facebook. Here is a sampling of what they wrote. And thanks to everyone who wrote in.

First, the Tweets:
-- @hockeygrrl13: "My thought is that the owners AND players need to show their fans the love. And a lot of it!"

-- @johnroschjr: "I guess we should put them on the clock for when this CBA ends and the next lockout begins."

-- @Erik8993: "Happy to have them back, but you have to love the college game. For them its all about the game they live for."

-- @Stripes55: "Honestly I'd written this season off. Was enjoying following @TheAHL and my hometown team @SyracuseCrunch without the callups."

-- @Billpositive: "fans should stay away for a week. Empty arenas send a loud message that this was not good for anyone. Glad it's back."

-- @goon48: "t's no reason it should have taken 113 days to settle the lockout! Disgusting, now lets play hockey @NHL."

-- @ScottMorlock518: :IT'S ABOUT TIME!! Bettman almost ruined yet another season, but thankfully we will have hockey...despite Bettman's best effort."

-- @silentnight7800: "happy it's over!! Sad I already missed scheduled game for hubby's birthday .... Sabres vs. Hurricanes..:("

-- @Chad9976: "too little too late. The playoffs will be longer than the regular season."

-- @tjsolly: "Don't care. They abandoned us for 113 days. I have been enjoying all of the alternative hockey options. e.g., @WBSPenguins."

-- @DVO0187: "Just glad to have hockey back, bitter but happy! As far as the general public goes nbc/nhl are up the creek!"

-- @JosephMDonahue: "Both sides should have known the parameters of the eventual deal back in October and cost themselves millions of dollars."

-- @BrockHines: "I hate tainted shortened seasons, but man cannot live on basketball alone. Ironic that the lockout ended on the Epiphany."

-- @red133883: "Happy it is over, but bitter and am going to try to 'lock them out' for at least a few games."

-- @mdamore4: "Happy it's ended, but hard to be HAPPY. Whole thing could have, and should have, been settled months ago. Damage has been done."

-- @lastchancealfy: "as a fan, it hurt to not have hockey for a few months. as someone in business, it makes sense for a league just getting momentum and massive increases in revenue to need extended time to figure out to keep the league working in the long run. As a rangers fan, i'm excited to see what the @NYRangers exhaustive defensive style can do while playing 30 fewer games."

From Facebook:
Tim Perry: "Don't really care! I've only seen 1 NHL game over the last 3 or 4 years so I wouldn't miss it if the season had been cancelled. I'm more into college and the AHL anyways, much cheaper ticket prices and they are local teams."

Colin Snyder: "What is hockey?"

"Fran Stein: "Glad it's over! All that is needed now is for Bettman to resign! Then it will seem like there was an upside to these last 4 months. And, NBCSN should NOT stop the college hockey telecasts just because the NHL returns. They have been enjoyable to watch."

Matthew Semisch: "The NHL needed to come back for the good of the game, but I feel like many fans have shown themselves to be really fickle over this. It seems like most of us were over the lockout as it kept dragging on, but everyone seems elated today now that the lockout's over. I'm not unhappy about it, but I'm done with people exclaiming that hockey's back - Hockey never went away."

Denise Curadi: "Let the 'violent ballet' resume!"

Steven Burek: "I'm glad that the Sabres are back and I will watch their games. But, I will not be going to any games the remainder of this season or next, I cancelled my Time Warner Sports Pass (which had the NHL Network) today, and I will not be buying any NHL merchandise in the next two seasons, either. The NHL won't be getting any of my money for the next two seasons to prove that they can't keep jerking the fans around and expect us to come back like nothing happened."

Keith Thibault: "The die hards will watch and attend games. They may be [mad], but love the game more than outraged by the turmoil form the lockout."

Joe Sullivan: "I think the minors and college is the way to go now, Bettman has no concern for the fans, I called this lockout back in the summer when Bettman avoided the question of the CBA like the plague ... at the GM meetings. I will not order center ice or attend any pro games this year for sure. Until they respect the fans I will not support the league."

Kiel Huhn: "The league is a joke. The fact that they had back-to-back labor disputes tells me league leadership is just plain bad. Living in Dallas, I can't even tell you one player's name and will not go out of my way to learn any of them now that the strike is over. The only sucky thing is the Mavs are terrible. Bring on College Hoops."

Michael DeSantis: "I think there is damage done. There will be a price that is paid with attendance, tv ratings and overall interest. The one positive thing for fans is with a short season, there will be a sense of urgency that every game is important which should give us some great hockey in the next few months."

Don Helbig: "In 2005, the NHL had new faces in Crosby and Ovechkin to re-engage hockey fans and mask what had taken place when the lockout ended. The NHL doesn't have that going for them this time so it's going to take a little longer to recover and win back the fans but it will happen and the league will be stronger than ever in the years ahead."

John Furgele: "Labor is Labor - you can't let the the labor issues affect your fondness or hatred of a sport. Business is business. You can only hope that they don't price the true fans out of the game, if they haven't done so already. I'll be watching; I have never been one of those "I don't care if they come back guys." I understood the business part, but I will enjoy the sporting part."

Walter Mankowski: "You mean there hasn't been any hockey this year? I hadn't noticed."

Ray Brownell: "Thought Bettman was going to let it go and lose season. Surprised to see settlement."

Kathy Johnson: "They're going to have to really suck it up & prove to us they deserve us as fans. This did not have to happen they knew the contract was ending yet chose to do nothing until the final hour then chose to ignore each other for days...Tell me why should I trust either side?:

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