At last, the thaw. The NHL lockout lurched toward resolution last week, with reports that the players' association had agreed to individual team salary caps. Neither league nor union confirmed the news, but for the first time since February, when PA head Bob Goodenow and commissioner Gary Bettman toasted a lost season with a hemlock spritzer, there's reason to believe hockey's long international nightmare will soon be over.
There's also cause for optimism within the union, which many thought would be clobbered when it dropped its anticap stance in February. The pending agreement might be as good a deal as the players could reasonably expect. The salary cap--probably around $36 million--will be linked to revenues, and as more money comes in, salaries will rise. There will be short-term pain for players and some teams: The Maple Leafs already have $27.1 million committed for eight players in 2005-06.
But like a blue-chip stock down on its luck, there is room for growth in the NHL, especially if anticipated rule changes--like overtime shootouts--boost offense and make for a snappier game. Indeed, the investment firms Bain Capital and Game Plan International think enough of this depressed property that last week they upped their offer for the entire 30-team league to $4.3 billion.