Hockey-mad Canadians are rejoicing after the NHL and players reached a tentative deal to end their lockout and salvage the season.
In newspapers nationwide, frontpage headlines cheered NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s announcement Sunday after a marathon 16-hour negotiating session that included both Bettman and NHL Players’ Association chief Don Fehr.
“The church of hockey gets ready for mass again,” shouted the Globe and Mail newspaper.
“The season is saved,” echoed the French-language daily Journal de Montreal.
With a deal, the NHL can avoid losing an entire season for the second time in its history. All of the 2004-05 campaign was lost to a similar bitter battle over financial issues.
Bettman had pinpointed January 19 as the essential start date to save a shortened season. The league has canceled 625 games — up to January 14 — just over half the planned schedule that was to have started in October.
The lockout reportedly cost the Canadian economy Can$1 billion in local players’ salaries and game ticket sales, but also in merchandise sales, and side businesses such as bars and restaurants near arenas that feed fans.
Some fans remained angry that the labor dispute lasted as long as it did, describing it in Twitter messages as a silly feud between millionaire players and billionaire owners over how to split up the pie.
“Hockey’s back but will the fans follow,” commented the National Post.
“Damage might run deep,” added the Montreal Gazette.
Peter Sergakis, head of the Quebec bar owner’s association, told public broadcaster CBC that during the lockout “people were not happy and when people are not happy they don’t spend money, they don’t go out, they don’t enjoy themselves, that’s what was happening.”
In Montreal, restaurant and bar receipts plunged 40 percent.
Sergakis predicted that bars and restaurants and the NHL itself would have to offer “special” deals to lure patrons and hockey fans back.