There was no hiding the excitement of NHL players as they awoke Sunday morning to the news that the league and union had reached a tentative agreement to end the 113-day lockout.
Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green called it the “Best day of my life!” on Twitter. Goaltender Braden Holtby wrote, “Huge thank you to all the players who put in countless hours during these negotiations!” And defenseman John Carlson tweeted, “So I guess it’s time to jump on my bed again?”
For those players, readying for a brief training camp and truncated season will be fairly simple. Green and Carlson are in the Washington area already, and Holtby is roughly two hours away with the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears. But the majority of the Capitals will have to make a long trek back to the team’s practice facility in Arlington for a brief training camp before play begins.
Alex Ovechkin is among those returning from Europe. The Capitals’ captain and star left wing will be back in Washington early this week, according to his IMG agent, David Abrutyn.
Ovechkin, who has lost $4,281,081 during the lockout, spent the work stoppage playing for his hometown team, Dynamo Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League. He finished with 19 goals and 21
points assists in 31 games and was slated to be a starter in the KHL All-Star Game.
Multiple times during the lockout, Ovechkin, 27, suggested that he and other Russian players might not return to North America if the new collective bargaining agreement drastically cut their contracts. Despite those comments, it seemed unlikely that Ovechkin would risk the repercussions for breaching his NHL contract should he not rejoin the Capitals.
Top center Nicklas Backstrom also played for Dynamo Moscow during the lockout and was on his way back to Washington on Sunday, according to Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.
“It feels so good to finally go back home,” Backstrom told Aftonbladet. “That’s what Washington feels like for me now, like it’s my home. But above everything else, I’m just really excited about playing in the NHL again.”
Backstrom recorded 10 goals and 15 assists in 19 KHL games but missed Dynamo Moscow’s last three contests after suffering a neck bruise on Dec. 26. It’s unclear whether the injury would limit his participation in training camp or the start of the season.
Capitals winger Troy Brouwer, meanwhile, is planning on leaving Chicago on Tuesday, while Matt Hendricks will drive from Minnesota on Monday night after one last workout in his home state. Grateful to return to a sense of normalcy with NHL games and a season, the players say they empathize with the fans having grown tired of hockey’s persistent labor disputes.
“For the fans that got upset and got fed up, we understand,” Brouwer said. “It was a long process that frustrated a lot of us, but to the ones that waited patiently, thank you for waiting and staying true to us. We know that in the upcoming season we’re going to put on a great game with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of excitement. Hopefully, if the fans come back, they’ll enjoy the type of product we’re putting on the ice.”
Malin Andersson contributed to this report.