Ice technicians at the MTS Center install the NHL's Winnipeg Jets logo at centre ice in Winnipeg on Tuesday. Fred Greenslade / Reuters
Buffalo president can't wait for action to return to the rinks
First, came the apology. And then, Buffalo Sabres President Ted Black delivered a vow to the team's hockey-starved fans on Tuesday.
With the four-month NHL lockout nearly over, Black said it's time for the team to get to work on delivering Buffalo a winner.
"On behalf of the Pegulas and the Sabres, we do apologize that fans had to go through this," Black said, referring to team owner Terry Pegula and his wife, Kim. "We're back in business ... and we're going to do whatever we can to get back on track to the mission that Terry has laid out for us: And that's to win the Stanley Cup."
Black spoke during a media conference at the team's facility two days after the NHL and NHL Players' Association reached a tentative agreement on a new 10-year labor deal.
On Wednesday, Black will be in New York attending the NHL board of governors meeting. That's where owners are expected to approve the new collective bargaining agreement in one of the final steps to prepare for the start of the regular season.
Excited as Black might be regarding the prospect of the Sabres taking the ice for the first time in nine months, he went out of his way to address potential hard feelings fans might have toward the Sabres.
"In many ways, fans' patience can be tested to the limits, and sometimes broken. And we hope that hasn't happened here," Black said. "The relationship we have with our fans is the most important thing in our business."
He's enthused that a 10-year agreement - both sides will have an opportunity to opt out after eight years - provides stability.
"Hopefully," Black said, "fans don't have to go through this for the next 10 years."
Black said the Sabres' season-ticket base of more than 15,000 remained strong through the lockout. He said only about 80 season tickets have been canceled since last summer. The team still has a 3,000-person waiting list.
Though the league has yet to release a regular-season schedule, Black said there's a possibility the Sabres' home opener will be on Jan 20. The Sabres are already preparing for the start of a week-long training camp, which could open as early as Saturday.
Many Sabres players are already in Buffalo, where they have been holding regular sessions at a suburban rink during the lockout. And others are beginning to return after spending the past few months playing overseas.
Captain Jason Pominville and veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr were the latest to join their teammates for a 75-minute session on Tuesday morning.
Pominville was so eager to hit the ice in Buffalo that he didn't let a little bit of jet-lag affect him after spending most of Monday traveling home from Germany, where he was playing in Mannheim.
"I think everyone's sorry about what happened. It's disappointing," Pominville said. "But at the end of the day, it wasn't a strike. It was the league not wanting us to play."
Regehr, who was involved in labor negotiations, described the lockout as "a pretty ugly chapter in the NHL", and focused his blame on Commissioner Gary Bettman.
"For whatever reason, Gary was adamant on locking the doors," Regehr said. "The ones I feel the worst for are the fans. There is going to be a level of, I don't know if you want to call it animosity or whatever, but I think it's fully understandable because of the situation that just happened."
(China Daily 01/10/2013 page22)