Blackhawks players are no longer locked out by the NHL. But they're pretty much locked out of the United Center for a while.
The NHL and NHLPA once again went deep into the night to hammer out the details of the Memorandum of Understanding that made the new collective bargaining agreement -- ratified by the NHL Board of Governors on Wednesday and by the players Saturday morning -- official and ended the lockout a little after 9 p.m. That allowed teams to release their 48-game schedules, open training camp (the Hawks, as expected, begin Sunday and cancelled their camp festival) and make transactions as of 11 p.m. central time.
And thanks to the Bulls, Disney on Ice, and Lady Gaga, the Hawks will play 10 of their first 12 games on the road, starting on Jan. 19 in Los Angeles with a matinee against the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings.
After playing the next night in Phoenix, the Hawks have their home opener on Jan. 22 against St. Louis before embarking on a stretch that includes eight road games out of nine -- the only home date on Jan. 27 against Detroit.
The risk, of course, there won't be much time to climb out of an early hole should the Hawks struggle early on. The Hawks were 27-8-6 at the United Center last season, and just 18-18-5 on the road. But the Hawks knew the United Center was pretty well booked this time of year, and were bracing for a schedule like this.
"I think it's an advantage," Bryan Bickell said on Friday. "Do some team bonding on the road. All the guys enjoy to be together, goof around and that kind of stuff. Just to get some chemistry and to get to know everybody. I haven't seen these guys in four months."
After the brutal road stretch, the Hawks will have seven straight home games, meaning they won't have to leave Chicago from Feb. 11 to Feb. 27. They close with three out of four on the road; the season finale is slated for April 27 at St. Louis.
"It could work both ways, I guess," goaltender Corey Crawford said. "Whatever you're thinking. If you're thinking negatively, it'll probably work negatively. If you're thinking positively, well, we'll have a lot of home games down the stretch."
Because of the compressed nature of the schedule, the Hawks have 10 instances of back-to-back games, and nine stretches of three games in four days. At only three points in the season will they have more than two days off in a row, including a four-day stretch between a March 20 game at Anaheim and a March 25 home game against the Kings.
"Every game's going to be important," Bickell said. "It's going to be good to have the home games late, because it might come down to that.
The last time the league faced a schedule like this was in 1995, following that season's lockout. Hawks winger Patrick Kane was just 6 years old then, but he's heard stories about that 48-game season -- which began on Jan. 20 and ended May 3, with the Stanley Cup being won by New Jersey on June 24 -- and how wild it was.
"I hear the 94-95 season was very intense," Kane said. "I think you can expect the same thing out here. To start, maybe it'll be a little more wide open because guys aren't familiar with systems and different things, and have been away from the game for so long. As time goes on, it's definitely going to get very intense because of the short season. It's going to be interesting.