Hockey is back, folks. This time, it's for real.
Today the Collective Bargaining Agreement was officially approved by both the NHL and the NHL Players' Association. While the hockey world hurried up and waited all day for news of the player ratification vote (voting ended at 8 am but the official NHLPA announcement didn't come until 5 pm, the NHL Board of Governors voted to ratify on Wednesday), we all added yet another term to our vernacular - Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU is the legally binding acceptance of the terms and conditions of the new CBA (the full multi-hundred-page CBA won't be finalized for a while) and the latest hurdle required to allow the season to commence. After another excruciating wait, the MOU was approved at 10:00 tonight.
That's a lot of jargon just to say that fans of the NHL can now finally get a schedule in hand and get on with the game of hockey.
And without any further ado here it is:
At a glance, here are the highlights of the 48-game schedule, its effect on the Hurricanes, and what we expect to happen next.
The regular season will begin on Saturday, January 19th and will wrap up on April 27th.
Each team will only play in-conference during the regular season.
Four games will be played against two division rivals (8 games)
Five games will be played against the other two division rivals (10 games)
Three games will be played with every other team in the Eastern Conference (30 games)
There are no changes to the format for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Specific to the Hurricanes:
The Hurricanes begin the season on January 19th on the road, in Sunrise against the Florida Panthers. The Panthers will hold a banner ceremony on their opening night to honor their 2011-12 Southeast Division championship.
On Tuesday, January 22nd, the Hurricanes will host their home opener at PNC Arena against the Tampa Bay Lightning. UPDATE 11:30 pm: The Hurricanes announced a ton of opening night fan promotions, click [here] for details.
The Hurricanes end the regular season on April 27th in Pittsburgh against the Penguins.
On a head-to-head basis, the uneven schedule format will cause disparities in terms of games played and number of home versus away games played against conference and division rivals. The Hurricanes will play the Jets and Panthers four times, splitting home and away. Five games will be played against the Capitals and Lightning, with a home advantage against the Lightning and an away disadvantage against the Capitals.
- There are nine back-to-back games in the schedule, starting with a home-and-home with the Sabres on January 24th and 25th. Three of the back-to-backs are in April.
- The Canes schedule is very weeknight driven. Out of 24 home games, only one is scheduled on a Friday night, six on Saturday night, and there are no Sunday home games.
- While there is no state fair road trip this year, there will be a circus road trip. The Canes play six road games between February 2nd and 12th.
Now that the schedule is official, attention can turn to training camp. Here's what we know so far.
The Hurricanes players held their last informal (not team-sanctioned) practice at Raleigh Center Ice on Saturday. A standing-room-only crowd was on hand to witness the arrival of Hurricanes newest acquisition, forward Alexander Semin, who took the ice for the first time with 13 of his new team mates. Semin, who spoke with the media afterwards with his agent as interpreter, said he was looking forward to the opportunity to be an important contributor to the team (see the Canes website and N&O Canes Now for interviews and I have a photo album on flickr).
- Player physicals are planned for Sunday.
- A training camp practice has been hinted for Sunday afternoon. The original season schedule had the Canes hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday afternoon, perhaps an open training camp practice will be on the schedule as a substitute, but it is just as likely that camp will begin in full swing on Monday.
Due to the limited schedule, no preseason games will be played nor will there be any cross league match-ups (Canes versus Checkers). Depending on the final number of camp invitees, coach Kirk Muller has indicated he may hold a few scheduled scrimmages as part of practice.
UPDATE 11:30 pm: Here's the official training camp schedule and roster. Training camp begins Sunday morning with player physicals, there will be a practice Sunday afternoon at 1:00 pm, and practices and scrimmages continue throughout the week.
CBA ratification also opens up the floodgates for transactions across the league - free agent signings, AHL call-ups, and player trades - which are available to begin within two hours of finalizing the Memorandum of Understanding, so expect the deals to start hitting rapid fire shortly after midnight and continue through the night. For the Canes:
Forward Tuomo Ruutu will be officially placed on injured reserve, opening an opportunity for his top-six roster spot to be filled by trade or call-up.
At last week's press conference Jim Rutherford mentioned he expected six or seven Charlotte Checkers players to get called up for camp, and based on the scratches for Saturday night's game against the Oklahoma City Barons, fans can expect to see forwards Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk, Tim Wallace and Jeremy Welsh, defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti, and goaltender Dan Ellis heading to Raleigh. Ellis is only on a tryout contract with the Checkers and will need to sign an NHL contract to join the Canes camp. Justin Faulk, who was with the Checkers when they played at PNC last weekend, is already in Raleigh, along with prospect Ryan Murphy.
Jim Rutherford has hinted he would also be looking at options available via the trade market.
Another detail that needs to be addressed almost instantaneously is ticketing. Generic tickets will be issued for the first few games, but tickets for all season ticket holders have to be distributed over the next week. There are also still outstanding questions for partial season plan holders in terms of game allotments. Single game tickets will go on sale to the public on Wednesday.
We'll continue to publish updates and stories on any major announcements as they unfold.
Strap in, this pace won't let up any time soon. At least we can hope that's the case from here.