Time to drop the puck at last

Published Jan. 11, 2013

The Bolts are finally back — and that's good for everyone on and off the ice.

The end of a contentious 113-day National Hockey League lockout means the Tampa Bay Lightning will return to work for an abbreviated 48-game season starting Saturday with a game against the Capitals. General sales for single-ticket games start today. It's about time — for the league, for hockey fans and for struggling Tampa downtown businesses catering to customers attending games.

The final agreement benefits owners by reducing the players' cut of revenues from 57 percent to 50. But more important perhaps for everyone off the ice, the new 10-year contract will establish the economic stability that has eluded the often dysfunctional NHL. Fans and Tampa businesses will be spared the uncertainty of strikes and lockouts. And that's good for hockey, which has a difficult to sustain fan base, especially in emerging markets like Tampa, when every few years labor strife threatens to scuttle a full 82-game season.

But also worth highlighting is Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's composure during this whole ordeal. From emerging as a reasonable voice for owners at the negotiating table to keeping his team's staff on at full salary, he once again proved himself a leader.