SAN JOSE Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle and his teammates indicated Sunday they face two simultaneous challenges: winning games in a shortened season and winning back fans who felt abandoned by the NHL.
"I understand where they're coming from and how upset they are," Boyle said Sunday. "You're just kind of hoping they can put their anger and bitterness aside. We need them to come back."
Boyle spoke less than an hour after he learned a tentative agreement had been reached overnight to end the NHL lockout in its 113th day.
And he worried that fans may not be as forgiving as they were eight years ago, when an entire season was lost and record attendance followed.
"This time around it was almost like, I won't say unnecessary, but the differences were so close for so long," Boyle said. "Hopefully, they forgive the process."
While forward Logan Couture said he doesn't have any expectations on how fans will respond, he seemed encouraged by the number of people who have been asking about when the Sharks would be playing since he returned to San Jose last week.
"I know it's tough and we've taken the game away from them for four months, and if I were a fan, I'd maybe think twice about buying merchandise or coming to the games," Couture said. "But they love their hockey out here."
Defenseman Douglas Murray, the only Shark on the National Hockey League Players' Association negotiating committee, also was hopeful fans would be back.
"I understand they're frustrated," he said. "We've been frustrated through this, and the frustration is shared. But it's their money, and they get to decide what to do. I really hope they're ready to forgive."
Murray was quick to declare there were no winners and losers in the tentative agreement.
"Absolutely not," he said. "The only winning part of this is we're playing again, and the players, the owners, the fans especially won't have to deal with this another eight years, maybe 10."
Boyle suggested the 2013-14 salary cap as the player share of hockey revenue drops from 57 percent to 50 percent might have been the final hurdle. The league wanted that figure set at $60 million, but the players, concerned about possible contract buyouts, wanted it to be $65 million. Eventually, the sides agreed to $64.3 million, according to reports.
"Although that may seem like small numbers, that's a lot of jobs and a lot of unnecessary player movement," Boyle said of the proposed $60 million cap. "I think that was a huge issue that got settled. Hopefully, not too many players are hurt by that."
Reliable figures provided by capgeek.com show that the Sharks have $54.3 million committed to 14 players for 2013-14. A $60 million cap would have left $5.7 million for the remaining nine roster spots. That likely would have forced general manager Doug Wilson to buy out existing contracts.
Boyle recognized that would be unsettling for everyone.
"You can never be 100 percent sure. Obviously, we're all candidates," he said. "It's one of those things that you see in other sports but you never really saw in hockey, where teams may actually be happy and thrilled with a certain player, but they have to let him go because of cap restrictions and stuff like that."