EDMONTON - The National Hockey League and National Hockey League Players' Association signed a Memorandum of Understanding Saturday night, penning the details on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that has ended the 119-day lockout.
An abbreviated, 48-game season begins next Saturday, Jan. 19, as 26 of the League's 30 teams will in action.
The Edmonton Oilers will open the 2012-13 schedule on Sunday, Jan. 20 against the Northwest Division rival Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena. The home opener to the club's 34th National Hockey League season will be played at 8:00pm MT on Tuesday, Jan. 22 against the San Jose Sharks at Rexall Place.
"More than anything, it's a relief on everybody's part," Oilers Head Coach Ralph Krueger told edmontonoilers.com Saturday night. "We wanted a schedule and wanted to know what our dates were.
"I don't mind [starting the season later], especially under the circumstances where a lot of our players haven't played in a while. It's also advantageous for the coaches because we can see Vancouver play Anaheim the night before on Saturday, possibly positioning ourselves a little better (for Sunday's game). And when we come home on Tuesday, we'll already have a game under our belt."
The shortened campaign will see the Oilers face off against their Northwest Division opponents a total of 18 times. Five will be played against the Canucks and Colorado Avalanche, and four against the Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild.
The Oilers will host the Avalanche, Wild, Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes from Feb. 12-23 in the club's longest homestand of the year.
In late-February/early-March when the Tim Hortons Brier curls into town, the Oilers will embark on a season-high nine-game, 16-day road trip. Stops include: Chicago, Dallas, St. Louis, Minnesota, Columbus, Detroit, Nashville and another visit to the Windy City.
The Oilers will close out the 2012-13 regular season with six games (four at home) in eight nights, including a rare, back-to-back set with the Anaheim Ducks on consecutive nights at Rexall Place (Sunday, Apr. 21 and Monday, Apr. 22).
In total, the Oilers' slate of the 48-game season will be played in only 96 days.
For that reason alone, Krueger believes it's crucial for the Oilers sprint out of the gate.
"We have to take advantage of our start where we have 10 of 17 at home and go into that nine-game road trip in a strong position -- maintaining pace with the pack," he said. "Our goal is to keep the picture small and not get too far ahead of ourselves by looking at what's to come late in the season. If we get out to a good start, it would be very important and then we'd make the schedule work for us."
On-ice sessions will begin on Monday at 11:00am MT. As such, the Oilers will have six days of practice before Sunday's season-opening encounter with the Canucks. Krueger's method of preparation is a simple one: "Business as usual."
"Once we get the testing done on Sunday we're going to begin with our practice schedule and go as if we've been playing all along," he said. "I think getting things back to normal and being normal is more important than being abstract. I think the players have had enough uncertainty in the last month and a lot of situations that were challenging, too. We want to get into a routine and a rhythm this week."
Krueger, 52, will be making his NHL head-coaching debut in Vancouver. Due to the League's binding legal policy, the former coach of the Swiss National Team has been unable to participate in the informal practice sessions at Rexall Place this past week. But in catching up and chatting with his players since their arrival, there's a considerable amount of energy and optimism spilling from the locker room.
"The contact that I've had hasn't been deep yet," Krueger acknowledged, "but being able to say hello and spend a couple minutes here and there with the players, I've felt that the spirit is alive and that everybody is really looking forward to playing, growing and developing this edition of the Edmonton Oilers. I'm sure that everyone will feel that spirit as we go through the upcoming week of practice and get back to playing games at Rexall Place."
Earlier this week Krueger said that the Oilers will have 15 forwards, eight defencemen and two goaltenders report to camp -- Yann Danis will remain with the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons as Devan Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin will shoulder the load. According to Krueger, "three forwards and a defenceman" will be called up to Edmonton early Sunday morning. Expect to see Teemu Hartikainen, Magnus Paajarvi, Colten Teubert and either Anton Lander or Chris VandeVelde get the call.
The Barons lost to the Charlotte Checkers 4-3 in overtime Saturday night at the Cox Convention Center.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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