Kovacevic: Just be glad hockey's back
Just be glad it's back.
At 4:45 a.m. Sunday, in a New York conference room thick with the combined acridity of a dozen lawyers and 15 hours of lockdown negotiations, the NHL and its players' union finally ended the most farcical work stoppage in sports history.
And by about sunrise, to be honest, I stopped caring about the particulars.
I don't care that it took 113 days, $20 million a day in lost money and immeasurable lost public trust for all these alleged adults to decipher that a fair way to split a total pool of $3.3 billion was, you know, 50/50.
I only care that, built on Ron Burkle's initial push a month ago, this labor agreement will last a decade.
If only it were two.
I don't care that Gary Bettman, Don Fehr and all the rest of the suits will engage in endless attaboys over coming days.
I only care that John Domitrovic, the media lounge host for decades going back to the Civic Arena and now at Consol Energy Center, will once again collect his full, honest day's wages. He's one of the nicest men you'd ever hope to meet.
Neither John nor any of the workers with the Penguins, the building or ancillary businesses deserved this.
I don't care that the Penguins' owners, Burkle and Mario Lemieux, will support a unanimous ratification vote this week, anymore than I care that their players will want to canonize union rep Craig Adams.
I only care that a truly special organization that treasures its family atmosphere, where hugs are the norm rather than handshakes, gets back to that. And it will. Jay Caufield, Pierre Larouche, Phil Bourque, Bob Errey, Eddie Johnston and other proud alumni will make sure.
I don't care that the schedule will be only 48 or 50 games. Nor about players toiling three to four nights a week. Nor about the monotony of Islanders and Devils every other day.
I only care that there will be games. And that they'll all come with playoff-like intensity. Might actually be more fun.
I don't care that a league that brazenly takes its fans for granted hasn't assembled any kind of package to regenerate excitement, as happened after the 2005 lockout with the shootout and fresh obstruction guidelines.
Well, actually, I do care about that. It's unconscionable.
I don't care that Kris Letang was the only player in North America traveling against the grain this weekend by curiously signing with a Russian team.
I only care that Ray Shero uses his new lockout-achieved right to buy out contracts — in effect after this season — to finally admit his Paul Martin mistake. Letang must be kept from becoming a free agent, and $10 million saved on Martin might be critical.
I don't care that Sidney Crosby might carry lingering negativity from a process that seemed to genuinely trouble him.
I only care that he's healthy — as he's assured me more than once in recent weeks — and as strong as he's looked in carving up the Southpointe ice every day.
Seriously, wait till you see.
I don't care that Evgeni Malkin was ripping up Russia's Kontinental Hockey League with 23 goals and 42 assists in 41 games.
I only care that, as a result of that action, he'll be as primed as anyone for this restart.
And that, for the first time since 2009, the Penguins will open a season with Crosby and Malkin.
I don't care that Bettman and the players in his league have a relationship that's now about as cozy as that of Roger Goodell and James Harrison.
I only care that someone will find common sense and abandon the tradition of the commissioner presenting the Stanley Cup to the triumphant captain.
Why not Gordie Howe instead?
Who better to heal hockey than Mr. Hockey himself?
He's 84 but still hale, healthy and elbows-up willing, I'll bet.
Really, I don't care about any of this other stuff anymore. We're already being inundated with analyses of the labor agreement, its implications, the damage done to non-traditional markets and all the horse-race-style “winners and losers.”
That last one cracks me up.
I'll spare you the reading and/or research: Everyone lost.
I only care now that, very soon, 18,387 fans will jam Consol, from Jean Pronovost-era season-ticket holders to the Knitting Lady to Cy “Malka-mania” Clark. Jeff Jimerson will clear his throat, the puck will drop, and the world's greatest sport will retake center stage in one of the cities that's embraced it the most.
It will be breathtaking.
Yeah. Just be glad.