Hopeful for hockey in 2013

BOSTON -- Here's a New Year's prediction: The puck will drop for the NHL in 2013.

This lockout has been frustrating for the league, the players' association, the fans and the business communities around the rinks. People want hockey. Even though it's been a nasty battle on both sides, there's an optimistic feeling that cooler heads will prevail and the NHL season won't be a total loss.

There are a lot of moving parts in this situation, and while he can't speak specifically about any of the negotiations, Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli is one of many who believe there will be a season.

"I think there still will be a deal," Chiarelli said while appearing on Boston.com radio Friday. "I feel confident. I know we've had the ups and downs over the last four months, and believe me, I've lived them to the highest and to the lowest. Every time you think there's a deal coming around the corner, there's not. But I do firmly believe there will be a deal. I think both parties are rational enough, despite what you read and hear. I think they're rational enough and they've done deals before and at the end of the day it's in the best interest of the league and the players to have a deal."

The sides haven't met since Dec. 13 and there are no meetings planned at this point.

In fact, on Thursday the NHL announced the cancellation of games through Jan. 14. If an agreement can't be reached in the next couple of weeks, the league's next decision would likely be to forgo the entire 2012-2013 season.

As ESPNNewYork.com's Katie Strang reported Friday afternoon, the NHLPA voted to authorize its executive board to decide whether or not to file a disclaimer of interest, which would disband the union.

Chiarelli was a player agent during the lockout in 1994-95, and then worked as the assistant GM for the Ottawa Senators when the entire season was shut down in 2004-05. So this is his third time dealing with a work stoppage.

"They are highly, highly frustrating," Chiarelli said during the interview with The Boston Globe's Bob Ryan. "Part of my business, part of my skill set, is to make deals, so you hear, you see what either side is proposing and you're like, 'Why can't there be a deal? It's so easy. Saw it down the middle, a little to the left, a little to the right.'

"It's something that you think it's going to be over quickly. It's not and day-to-day seems to drag it down even more and you get these false starts where we have to get the ice down and get the players ready and it's a real tough experience and I feel for the fans, too.

"We've got a good team and we've got some momentum and we've got our guys coming into their own, and this is after having won a year ago, so it's a real frustrating exercise."

When the sides come to an agreement, and all the players return from playing in Europe (the Bruins have 13 members overseas), there will be a seven-day training camp before a shortened season begins.

After the 1994-95 lockout ended, a 48-game schedule began on Jan. 20, 1995. The hockey was thrilling in that compressed season. It was a race to the playoffs, which ended with the New Jersey Devils hoisting the Stanley Cup with a four-game sweep of the Detroit Red Wings on June 24.

Current Bruins president Cam Neely played that season and remembers exactly what it was like.

"It was like a sprint towards the playoffs," explained Neely last week. "So it'll be just that, I don't know how many games if we do end up playing how many we'll be able to get into the schedule, but it'll be a sprint to the playoffs and everybody will know that. It's just a matter of what kind of condition the players are going to be in because it's going to start off fast and furious."

At this point we need to forget who's to blame for this and just settle the dispute. The game and its fans have suffered enough. Hockey fans care about their sport and they want it back. So give it to them.