Dark start to year gives way to bright future
By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) - An NHL season that nearly never was will be remembered as one that set the course for a bright new future in a seminal year bookended by a deal that secured a decade of labor peace and a multi-billion TV agreement.
It was a rough start to 2013 with players locked out by owners, the New Year's Day outdoor Winter Classic canceled and the season on the brink of being scrapped before a last-gasp deal in early January salvaged a 48-game schedule.
The year, however, will end on a much more upbeat note as National Hockey League (NHL) Commissioner Gary Bettman announced last month a whopping 12-year $5.2 billion Canadian TV rights deal that is the largest for the NHL.
On another bargaining front, the NHL faced off with the International Ice Hockey Federation and International Olympic Committee before agreeing to extend their Olympic participation so players can compete in the February 7-23 Sochi Games.
While much of the drama was generated around negotiation tables there was plenty of action on the ice as well.
The Chicago Blackhawks claimed a second Stanley Cup in four seasons by beating the Boston Bruins in a pulsating, bone-jarring Final that pitted two of the league's Original Six teams against each other for the first time since 1979.
A breathtaking postseason reminded disillusioned fans of all that is good and fascinating about ice hockey, undoing a good chunk of the damage done by the bitter labor dispute.
The season culminated in a rollicking Finals that featured three overtimes before the Stanley Cup was finally hoisted on a sweltering summer night in Boston when Chicago scored twice in the final 76 seconds to clinch the best-of-seven series in six games in front of a stunned crowd. Continued...