Top Shelf: For better or worse, hockey is back

Smart money always had the owners and players settling their differences before sacrificing another season to labor strife.

Even when things looked bleakest the most cynical among us still could say to ourselves, "they can't be dumb enough to lose another season, can they?"

Early Sunday morning, the owners and players finally confirmed our belief that they weren't completely crazy by agreeing in principle to a new collective bargaining agreement.

The owners won a few battles as did the players, but the important thing is it at least will be another eight years before the topic of a new CBA comes up in the NHL. Let's hope by that time both sides in this ongoing war will learn how to settle their differences without lopping off huge portions of a season.

This time it took 113 days for the league and the NHLPA to end a lockout that was fought over things that most fans will never understand or care about.

For months, the owners and players were entangled in a petty battle over percentage points on billions of dollars and now that their squabble is over they'll come crawling back to the fans. They'll tell anyone who'll listen how great it is to have hockey back and how all they ever wanted to do was play the sport they love.

During the lockout, the owners and players fought each other with propaganda. but now that an agreement has been reached they'll combine forces and use the same strategy to get the public back on their side.

My hope is that they'll face an uphill battle in winning back fans. After largely ignoring the wishes of the masses during the lockout, it only seems fair that the NHL should have to work to get back in everyone's good graces.

Although the league won't officially say when the abbreviated 2012-13 campaign will begin until the CBA is ratified, reports suggest the most likely scenario is a 48-game regular season that will begin on Jan. 19.

Whenever the season begins it's safe to say that the on-ice product will suffer due to the lockout. Plenty of players stayed in shape by playing in the AHL or overseas but there are loads of others who decided not to skate competitively for another team.

Add the rust factor to a condensed schedule and it seems all too likely that players will be worn out from the lack of rest and more prone to injuries. The wear and tear of a regular NHL season claims its share of casualties, so it seems evident that less rest than usual will lead to an increase in injuries. That's what happened in the NBA when its own labor issues forced a shortened year in 2011-12 and the NHL can expect injuries to be a bigger factor than usual in this sprint of a season.

The lack of any preseason games also could prevent teams the necessary time to gel, meaning a sloppier brand of hockey is a strong possibility.

While these are the realties of a shortened season that hockey fans will have to acknowledge, it doesn't mean they should be happy about it. It's important to remember that the reason we're in this situation at all is because owners and players can't achieve anything labor-wise without taking an NHL season hostage.

It's not anyone's place to tell people whether or not they should embrace the NHL upon its return later this month. Although the owners and players deserve to be punished for playing a game of chicken with the season it's hard to begrudge those who can look past those sins and just be happy to have the NHL back.

My guess is attendance will suffer a bit at first before all is forgotten by the time the playoffs roll around. The owners and players deserve a worse fate for what they put the sport through, but it'll be hard to blame fans for not being cynical enough to want revenge.

Warts and all, the NHL is back, and for most people that's reason enough to rejoice.