Sunday, January 27, 2013

Home Sweet Home

This is "home" for me. At least for NHL games. From the back row of Section 124 at Prudential Center.

That was the overwhelming feeling, at least for me, at the home opener on Tuesday night.

The drive to Roselle Park to the train station. The walk from Penn Station through the Gateway Center out to Prudential Center, all lit up for an Opening Night sellout. Riding the escalator up from the first tower into the arena concourse. The same lady greeting you by selling programs and high-fiving everyone as they walked by. Riding the escalator up to the second level. Turning right then left and coming around the curve to my seats. And this view.

Nothing had changed. It was good to be back to watching hockey.

And the people. I think all of the season ticket holders who sat around me came back this year, almost all to the same seats. Even as too many months went by, it felt as if nothing had changed, even though so much had.

We had this hanging (on the other side of the balcony from where I sit). I have no view of it from my seat, but it was one of the first things I had to go see when I got up stairs. One night, I'll bring my real camera and take all kinds of pictures of the new banners and all of the banners on that end.

The concessions change each year. I now have to say "I sit in front of the Rita's stand" instead of the Carvel stand. The players change a bit each year. The Devils have a new captain this season and some new coaches. But for Opening Night, after a long layoff, none of that mattered. It was good to be home.

The post-script to that story is shutout number 120 for the franchise goaltender. It's a shame I had to miss the end in order to catch my train home. Hopefully leaving early like that won't happen too often this season.

Now we're 3-0-0, with the fourth game of the shortened season just a few hours away. There are certainly things they need to work on. They still pass too much, especially on the power play. Friday night against Washington was a prime example of that. There's a new coach for the power play and offense and there's supposed to be a new system in place where they get shots on the net rather than passing to get good looks. That didn't happen. The defense in front of the net in the 2 games I saw in person looked really good. Certainly helped with the shutout on Tuesday against the Flyers. They're changing up the offensive lines every day. That's still the "training camp" mentality. There is also a bit of a void to fill up there. I'd like to think every team is dealing with similar issues. But we're undefeated.

Two other observations from the league from the first week of the new season: A lot of fighting (not that there's anything wrong with that), and a lot of penalty shots. No idea why. Someone will have to look into it.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Game On

Editor's note: I started writing this post in the day or two after the tentative deal to end the NHL lockout was struck. Then I got the flu, and I'm finishing it on the 3rd day of the regular season.

They did it. Despite the best efforts of the negotiating heads of the two sides, a deal was done, and we're going to see NHL hockey in the 2012-2013 season. And I didn't think it was going to happen.

A couple of unrelated thoughts now that the lockout is over.

The NHL owners, teams, and players need to work, for at least the balance of this season, to make this up to us. I don't care if it's hockey hot beds like Montreal and Toronto, or smaller markets like Phoenix and New Jersey. A dispute that us fans had no control over cost us half a season of their product as well as pain and suffering, so they owe us.

And it shouldn't just apply to season ticket holders. It should extend to anyone still willing to buy tickets, and it should really apply to those who aren't going to buy tickets. The NHL is a business. We got that lesson loud and clear over the past 5 months. But a business is no good without customers (that's actually all I know about business).

NHL GameCenter would be good to give away for free this year. NHL Center Ice too (though the cable operators, innocent pawns in this like us, would lose out making money too, but maybe the NHL should cover some of those losses to extend a rather large olive branch to us fans). The ironic thing about that, at least for me, is that I live in a place where I already get full schedules for 3 NHL teams and yet I want more. Some markets only get one team, and it's so far away that it really isn't "theirs".

The negotiations really came down to the wire. Another 2 days of bargaining, looking at how the week before training camp could open went with the legal stuff, and I don't think there could have been a season. I'll give them credit for finishing up on Saturday even though it was just before 5am on Sunday because the Saturday session never actually ended until the deal was done. As it was, training camp was 1 day less than what everyone had speculated (and probably 1 week too short). Another day of negotiations, and I don't think it could have worked. I don't think people realize how close it really was.

Now, imagine if the whole lockout had happened before NEXT season with the Olympics taking place during the NHL season. I know it hasn't quite been settled whether the NHL players will participate in the Olympics, but imagine if the league and NHLPA were negotiating against a deadline to start a season that had to be interrupted for the Olympics. Or that the concession was the players would have to skip the Olympics. A realistic deadline for a stop-and-start season would have been much much earlier (by at least a month). Hard to realistically place the lockout and Olympics together and speculate what might have been, it's also entirely possible that the season could have been lost BECAUSE of the Olympics.

At the end of the lockout, I had the odds up to 20% that the league never played another game. Obviously that didn't happen, but during the lockout, with the almost toxic nature of the bargaining, I really thought there was a possibility that it could happen. I really don't understand the issues, and obviously it was a bit more complicated than a 50/50 split, but the process of getting to the agreement is a bit nuts. I've also believed that there were at least one or two owners who were looking to take everything they could from the players at any expense.
In the end, it was reported that the owners voted 30-0 in favor of the deal which ultimately ended the lockout, but I really didn't trust them. Sometimes, a real commissioner with power would step up and force any owners not acting in the best interest of the entire league (and a work stoppage and another cancelled season certainly would not have been in the best interest of the league) to sell their team. But the NHL doesn't have such a commissioner.

Back to more rational thinking. I don't really know the politics of the NHL or NHLPA or how collective bargaining really is supposed to work, but I did ponder this.

But in the end, they got a deal done, they saved the season, the heads of both sides are still losers...

And I leave you with the build up the Devils gave us before each Playoff game last season.

Game On!

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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Good Ol' Hockey Game

There's so much to absorb from today. And I was away from the news for most of the day. I actually made my 4th trip up to Albany to see the Albany Devils (of course, the NJ Devils' AHL affiliate). Along with some other errands, it took me away from things for most of the day after the early early morning reports were coming out.

Let me just say this, while I try to write something more profound during the week. I'm happy that the NHL league/owners and players finally got this thing figured out. It ended better than I had thought and feared.

And I commend all of the reporters who were in NYC during the past week covering the lockout and marathon sessions, especially the ones that stayed up all night last night and well into the Sunday morning period to start reporting on the news. They kept all of us informed on twitter throughout the madness, and they were there to report the good news at about 5am today after waiting and watching all night. They are true professionals.

I'll have more in the next day or two. I don't care much about the details. I just care that they got it right so this doesn't happen again.

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