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Back in business

Here's why the best is yet to come for the revived NHL

Posted: Friday July 22, 2005 5:27PM; Updated: Saturday July 23, 2005 2:30AM
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With the NHL's return, phenom Sidney Crosby can get to work with his new team, the Penguins.
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

Some said it would be this way all along. Others still wonder why the NHL had to forsake an entire season to arrive at this point. Neither matters. What matters is that on R-Day (ratification day), the NHL is back in business.

There is now a sense of getting busy -- frenetically rebuilding at first, but hopefully over time, for the long haul. And history is on the NHL's side. After all, the game has been around in one form or another for a long time. The biggest difference now is that for the first time, owners and players have forged an economic partnership. This is the way it should be. The owners need the players, and the players need the owners.

Now they have one another, bound by a Collective Bargaining Agreement better measured in pounds than by the page. The protagonists now are partners. From inert to energized; from stasis to skating. What seemed nonsensical now has structure and balance. But what holds the answers to so many questions, the NHL relaunch also is fraught with the unknown.

In this case, this is a good thing. To paraphrase a great philosopher, the sure sign of idiocy is to do the same thing over and over and expect change. Before the lockout, that at times seemed to describe the NHL's approach to problem solving. Now the league is embracing real, substantive change, armed with a new CBA, new rules designed to promote opening up the game and the prospect of the league getting younger and faster over the next few years -- led by Sidney Crosby and a host of American-born players.

Will it work? Of course it will. The NHL has survived a litany of crises over its history. This time, the owners proved their resolve regarding the league's economics, with viability held as a virtue. Yet, ultimately, the players proved what players everywhere know: They just want to play -- and need to play.

Yes, it's about the money, but the players proved that in the end, it's about the game. It's what they know. It defines who they are. With it, they feel whole, and without it they found the hole to vast to fill. The players proved the game is what they care about most.

Not that the league can expect to emerge from a season of darkness with all being light and right. The timeline is extremely aggressive regarding the draft, free agents, contract options and buyouts. Many teams barely have the staff to handle all of the offshoot issues stemming from hockey operations. The league office is running lean when you consider all of the business issues that need tending.

So, enjoy all of the new rules and Crosby sweepstakes -- all compelling stuff. But as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday night, now is the time to take a deep breath. He's right. The next couple of months will prove frantic. But the focus is finely honed, and that is to see NHL players getting back to work, doing what they do best, which is play hockey.

That gives us all a reason to anticipate the best is yet to come.