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There will be hockey at the Joe Louis Arena this winter. The Red Wings, and the NHL, are coming back Jan. 19.
That was the attitude Saturday among players, team executives, vendors and others on both sides of contract negotiations between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association.
Jubilation and relief swirled through Joe Louis Arena on Saturday, where four of the state’s hockey teams were playing in the Great Lakes Invitational.
How certain are the Red Wings that the season will be salvaged with an imminent agreement?
Players, vendors and employees have been told to expect the season to begin on Jan. 19. One active NHL player confirmed the news with excitement. A Red Wings legend and Hockey Hall Of Famer called friends and colleagues, spreading the news.
Team employees shared the same happy report: Hockey begins Jan. 19, likely a 48-game regular season and a full playoff schedule.
Jan. 19 is significant because it’s the NHL-imposed deadline to begin the season. And it’s also a Saturday night, which is the most symbolic time slot for NHL hockey, long established by CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada as the traditional time for hockey. That Saturday night start would include big match-ups in both the United States and Canada, with coverage on Hockey Night in Canada and the NBC Sports Network – just like any other opening night.
Sources close to the situation say a 48-game season is the least that the NHL would accept. It would be the same set-up used in the shortened NHL season of 1995, the last time there was a lockout and shortened season.
The season will likely consist of primarily intra-conference games, as there won’t be enough time to play every team. A potential schedule would include four games each against the four teams in one’s own division, three games each against the other ten teams in a conference, and two wild-card games. (I’d assume that the first games, on Jan. 19, would pair up rivals, with the Red Wings likely facing off against the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, or Nashville Predators.)
Within the Red Wings organization, the team is preparing to retire Nicklas Lidstrom’s #5 this season. This ceremony has not been officially announced yet, but everyone knew it was just a matter of time. The team has informed product vendors to prepare for Lidstrom’s night.
Walking around Joe Louis Arena on Saturday, the impending deal was the worst-kept secret there. Everyone seemed to know, all eager to return. The mood was one of confidence. The good news seemed inevitable.
The team even erected a concourse banner in preparation of the new season.
All that is left, quite literally, are two signatures: Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr.
It’s all but done. It will get done. There will be NHL hockey this season, there will be Red Wings hockey. Right?
What else is there to discuss?