The tentative CBA agreement between the NHLPA and NHL may not yet be official until later in the week, but the Dallas Stars are most decidedly open for business.
"In light of the fact that Mr. Fehr and Mr. Bettman have stood up in front of the world and say they have an agreement I'm going to take them at their word," Stars President and CEO Jim Lites told media Sunday afternoon. "We have a board of governor's meeting tentatively scheduled for Tuesday (hearing Wednesday now) at which point there will be a vote on ratification."
Lites told media he was reading the paper this morning with his wife in Cedar Park, in town to watch Stars prospects play Saturday and Sunday night, when his son called him and told him the lockout was over.
It was back to work for him, and everyone on staff immediately.
"We anticipate that we'll be playing sometime the week of the 14th of January and the season will be somewhere between 48 ad 50 games," said Lites of the lead-up to a season. "We don't have a schedule yet. I don't think they'll issue one until the thing is ratified by both the players and ownership, but with that said I'm happy to say that we're going to be playing. It's game on."
"I've got season ticket holder reps upstairs calling people, on the phone with people as we speak. It's Sunday afternoon and we couldn't be more fired up."
Elation from some (hello) is juxtaposed by apathy from many others. Those reading content posted in this community are, with few exceptions, excited for the return of hockey, but as Lites and company know, there are so many fences that need mending moving forward.
"I'm sure fans are upset and I don't blame them a bit," he acknowledged. "We have to win back their trust. They've done nothing but give to us here in Dallas and been the best fans in the world. We have to do everything we can to improve our game, make our players accessible to the fans, make ourselves accessible to fans. We have to earn back their trust and try as hard as we ever have at building our fan base here."
It's early in the process so details on how that might be done are still forming. One thing that's not going to change is the Stars' cheapest ticket prices in the league.
"I know this, we're going to be price sensitive," Lites said of reconciling with fans. "You saw what Mr. Gaglardi did with prices last year. He made the ticket a lot more achievable for the casual fan and I don't think any of that's going to go backwards this year. We're going to do everything we can to be relevant in this community."
Much was made last season about Dallas' season ticket holder base shrinking to around an estimated 7,000 seats or so. The Stars are mindful that keeping them happy is as important as bringing in new faces.
"We're going to do everything we can to try to get people back and be good to our existing fans, be great to our season ticket holders - do everything we can to say yes to them on any of their requests. You can do a lot with exchange programs and making people understand that you're going to do everything you can to make the product as attractive as possible. I think we've done a really good job of communicating with our season ticket base as this process has been on-going."
The ball is rolling in the front office from a business stand point, and we'll stand by to see what kind of advertising the team can get rolling on such short notice, but what about hockey-wise?
Joe Nieuwendyk and Glen Gulutzan are expected to address the media later in the week, perhaps as early as Monday or Tuesday, but Lites says they have their work cut out for them as well.
"The biggest challenge will be getting the players together quickly," said Lites of starting so quickly. "I think Joe Nieuwendyk and his staff have done a good job with communicating with all of our people, and all the players on an on going basis."
"It's going to be a tough go for Glen Gulutzan and his staff to pull a group together and get them going in 10 days, but it's no different than it is in 30 other markets. Hopefully our players come in shape, or as much shape as they can. We probably had half of our roster playing somewhere, and the other guys playing around here."
Has the team been allowed to contact the players at this point?
"Our staff has been on the phone with every one of our players," he said of the PR group. "Everybody's been contacted and we're getting them here as fast as we can. We're assuming this going to get done. I don't think the guys [Fehr, Bettman] would have come out of that room without an understanding and announce a deal was done. We're assuming it is and we're hoping our fans assume it is."
We do, indeed. Hockey is back.
The consumption of said hockey is another issue entirely. Some will flock back (hello) while others will watch, but withhold their dollars as the sting of the lockout slowly subsides. What will you do?