Brad Richardson, Jarret Stoll, Justin Williams and several other members of the Stanley Cup champion Kings went back to work Monday, which is to say they skated informally again while waiting for the NHL’s new collective bargaining agreement to be finalized.
The only difference was they didn’t have to rent the ice at their El Segundo training facility and the team opened the locker room doors to the players for the first time since the lockout began Sept. 15, a bit of a welcome-back gesture after owners and players reached an agreement Sunday.
Some eight to 10 players practiced together for the better part of the last fourth months, but Richardson and Stoll each said they were looking forward to the official opening of training camp, perhaps as soon as this weekend, and the beginning of the regular season, possibly Jan. 19.
The Kings could play their season opener and raise their first Stanley Cup championship banner on the afternoon of the 19th, a Saturday, at Staples Center. Their co-tenants, the Clippers, are scheduled to host the Washington Wizards later that evening.
Scheduling and the length of the shortened season, believed to be 48 to 50 games, still must be worked out. The CBA also must be ratified by the league’s 30 owners and its players, which is expected to be a formality once all parties have had a chance to read through the document.
One thing is for certain, though, the Kings can look forward to hitting the ice soon.
“It’s good to be back, whether it’s 48 games or 50 or whatever, I’m just glad to get a chance to play some hockey and, hopefully, winning again,” Stoll said. “We realize we have a lot of work to do in the meantime. It’s exciting having our whole team back again. There are so many positives.”
In fact, the Kings could be contenders again this season simply because their roster is the same as the one that squeezed into the playoffs as the eighth-seeded team in the Western Conference and then roared through the postseason en route to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title in 45 seasons.
Winning games could be one thing, but winning back the fans could be another.
“We realize it’s not going to be easy to win the fans back and get that support back,” Stoll said. “We’ll see what happens. Everybody’s been pretty positive. We haven’t had any negative stuff so far. I’m not sure we will. We have great fans here. They’re behind us 100 percent. I’m sure we lost some (fans), but time will tell. We’re going to have to win some games and get the excitement going again.”
Richardson said he was looking forward to seeing all of his Kings teammates. Although some remained in Southern California to train, there were plenty of others who played in Europe during the lockout. It will take some time before everyone returns to El Segundo.
“Everyone’s really excited to get going,” Richardson said. “Everyone’s going to be excited about that first game. We know there’s some people who are pretty (ticked) off about what happened, but I know Kings fans are very loyal and have stuck with us through thick and thin.
“So, I know that first game, raising the banner is going to be pretty special.”
Kevin Westgarth, a Kings forward who was part of the union’s negotiating team, said players, fans, coaches and owners must be patient while the last steps to starting the season are completed. He said the union would conduct a conference call to answer questions about the new CBA.
“Of course the league will say if the players hurry up, we can play more games, there’s a reality to consider as well,” Westgarth said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But the first step is for the people who are good with words to get on paper what both sides agreed to. Then we have to get guys, who are scattered all over the world , to understand the agreement before we can start voting.”