In remembrance of the late Ashley Gallant, originator of “Lacing Up,” Matt Paul, Joshua Neal, and, at times, guest writers will hold a week-long email discussion, which will be published on FF Monday mornings. If you have any topics you would like to see us discuss, or if you would like to be a guest in our series, please let us know through the comments section below or on our Contact page, linked at the top of FF.

Matt Paul: Josh, I’m not sure I truly thought this day would come before the season was canceled. But something told me when my phone buzzed around 7:45 this morning that a deal had been reached. And it was — or at least the framework for a deal was reached. Some T’s need crossed and I’s dotted, but I’m confident it’s safe to say we’ve seen the end game and hockey is on the horizon. I’m ecstatic, and I’m sure you are, as well.

Word on the street is the once-discussed 48-game schedule could be increased to 50 games, avoiding the dreaded (and also intreguining) seven games against divisional opponents and two against all other conference opponents. The new format would put five games against each divisional opponent (20 total games) and three games against all other conference opponents (30 games). That sounds pretty reasonable. Do you agree? Also, while on the topic of scheduling, let me ask you one more thing. Will the NHL schedule makers choose to start the season on January 16th (10 days after the lockout ended, as has been discussed for months) or January 19th (a specific date that has been discussed the last week or so)? Let’s hope they choose to start ASAP, rather than waiting for a weekend, right?

Joshua Neal: Matt, we’ve both ridden, sworn off, then fallen victim again to this emotional roller coaster, so it seems that at this point a season is so close that a failure in ratification would be devastating. That ratification is to take place on Tuesday, from what I’m hearing. As you said, it sounds like more of a formality than anything else. Let’s hope so, at least, because I believe news that “things have gone off the rails” again might literally end up with rioting in the streets. And I’ve got a pitchfork for anyone who’d like to borrow one.

To answer your questions, I think we’d both be foolish to say that we’d rather delay something we’ve been waiting months for any longer than need be. I’d love to be able to say “hockey is a little over a week away.” This also pairs well with the 50-game schedule, which I greatly prefer to the 48-game model, for the very reason you’ve mentioned above. Seven games against all four of our divisional opponents loads up our season with 28 bona fide rivalry games. And the Atlantic Division is no slouch. To borrow the words of Leonidas, this is madness. Don’t forget that the already powerful Rangers have added Rick Nash to their lineup, and that the most significant departures in the league came from New Jersey in Zach Parise and our own hometown, where Jordan Staal departs for Carolina (after playing in Johnstown later this week with his former teammates).

To go further, Matt, I think in the midst of anticipation there are some details that are worth looking at in this explained framework of the CBA. The main one was one that you, Mike, and I spoke about in a previous “Lacing Up” edition. Realignment. No mention or plan of realignment was included in the CBA framework. Will it find its way in there after the fact? Or is the Southeast Division doomed for multiple yearly trips up to Winnipeg’s barn?

Matt: Josh, from what I’m hearing, realignment apparently has been off the table in terms of negotiations for quite some time. I may be wrong here, but my sense is that the 2013 shortened season will feature the same division/conference alignment as the 2011-12 season with the expectation that realignment will be discussed and resolved this summer. I’ve also heard some chatter of a simple, temporary fix for the 2013 shortened season that would bump Winnipeg to the West and Columbus to the East. This cuts down on travel costs and time, both of which surely will be issues as we move forward.

One issue that we won’t have to worry about (at least anytime soon) is another lockout. The good news of this agreement comes in the form of a 10 year CBA with an opt-out option in year eight. It’s not quite as good as the lifetime contract I was holding out hopes for, but much better than the three-week model I was expecting. Hyperbole aside, Josh, what do you think of the term, and are there any intriguing aspects that have peaked your interest?

Josh: I think it’s definitely encouraging to see a level of commitment that reaches double digits. I also think that there was finally some give-and-take bargaining this time. This week seemed to have a heightened sense of urgency, probably due to the fact that the “drop-dead date” was calculated and announced. It’s definitely unfortunate that it took this long to get things on the rails. I personally enjoy hockey too much to be too bitter about the length of time it took. I’m ready to move forward with things and enjoy this season. That being said, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with the disgruntled fans that are boycotting games, choosing to watch at home rather than purchase tickets, or anything in between. One thing to keep in mind is that every hockey fan was impacted by the lockout and that everyone deserves the right to deal with it in their own way.

As far as things that have caught my eye (beyond the 10-year agreement, which is remarkable), I think that the player contracting limit and restrictions on back-diving contracts is something that can really help “protect owners from themselves.” No longer will 10 + year contracts be signed by any player, and it is now against the cap to have a player make less than 50% of the original first-year salary at any point in his deal. Those “bad contracts” or contracts that manipulated cap loopholes should give some relief to teams as they adapt to the new cap rules.

I wrote an article several weeks back, essentially saying that the owners in this league always seem to get exactly what they want. Now that a deal is all-but-struck, I’m not so sure that prediction was true. Obviously as fans, we get hockey so I think we are winners here. How do you think the owners’ camp as well as the players’ association feels about what they were able to accomplish in the bargaining process (aside from wasting 3 months of my time)?

Matt: In all honesty, Josh, I feel as though this agreement is much more of just that, an agreement, than one side imposing its will as was the case last go around. I feel there are some things the players won (make whole and pension, for example), while there are some things the owners won (CBA length and contracting issues). While it’s unfortunate it took 100+ days to accomplish, I feel comfortable with the direction this CBA will take the NHL — though I admittedly haven’t had a chance to review all details.

From a fan’s perspective, I think we’ll see a better on ice product in time as a result to a system that prevents teams from locking up players to “lifetime” contracts that circumvent the intentions of the salary cap. By eliminating some of the loopholes more players theoretically should be free agents and more teams should be players. That said, the theoretical element is key, as player agents and general managers will continue to work the CBA to their advantage, eventually finding new, more creative loopholes.

Josh, you mentioned that all fans are entitled to act and react as they please, as this lockout has impacted us all. There has been some talk from reliable sources that the completion of a new CBA likely would come with an “apology” to fans in the form of free NHL Center Ice for the season. Is this olive branch a slap in the face or a good start, and what else can the league do to make amends?

Josh: Matt, to me the rumor of free “NHL Center Ice” for fans is a slap in the face at many levels. The typical hockey fan follows one team and doesn’t find much use for being able to watch all 30. But even for those folks who truly enjoy that service, I see it as a slap in the face. The revenue that television contracts generate has to be an insanely lucrative amount. We just watched the league fight over money because teams were broke or moving toward being insolvent. How much sense does it make to offer a service for free in the wake of that? Now, I do realize that many Center Ice channels are just migrated local feeds, but the principle essentially says “We just fought all this time fighting over millions, now let’s make millions in concessions.”

I’d rather hear an apology from their lips than a substantive item. Maybe that’s just me, though. I think that for the league’s most loyal fans, these reparations go beyond any item or apology. Rather than those things, they should be negotiating the next CBA midway through this one’s term. That way, next time the term of the deal comes up, the 100+ days of negotiations will have already happened. Almost got upset thinking about it. But the calm came over me about this whole ordeal, because at worst, we’re less than 2 weeks from hockey.