Madness now just on Madison

The NHL and NHLPA came to a tenative agreement to end the lockout early Sunday morning. The deal must still be ratified, but the regular season is expected to begin in Mid-January.

Here come the Hawks, the mighty Blackhawks.

Admit it, hockey fans in the city: You never have been happier to hum that hokey song in your head.

You have missed the winter soundtrack of your sport in our city. You cannot wait to hear the familiar music of “Chelsea Dagger” after a Blackhawks goal at the United Center where, yes, they will play this season perhaps as early as Jan. 15 after the NHL lockout finally ended Sunday morning.

And you thought the Bears interviewing the coach of the Montreal Alouettes was going to be the most surprising Canada-related sports news affecting Chicago this weekend.

The particulars of the new 10-year collective bargaining agreement still require second readings and lawyers' signatures, but the sight of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr standing side by side in New York after reaching an agreement provided reason for celebration. Yes, the lockout lasted too long — 113 days that cost the league 510 games -- for reasons difficult to comprehend. Yes, the work stoppage confirmed Bettman as the worst and most tone-deaf commissioner in sports. But it's over.

As Eddie Olczyk might say, I consider that tremendously tremendous.

A compressed 48- or 50-game NHL schedule is better than no schedule at all, though the increased risk of injury with the games so close will be something to watch. Crowning a Stanley Cup champion in late June to accommodate the late start beats letting the Kings keep it another year because there were no playoffs at all. Welcoming hockey back in NHL cities like Chicago, even grudgingly, makes more sense than canceling a season for reasons only Bettman and NHL owners might understand.

You still can be mad at the sport, but look forward to the return of action at the Madhouse on Madison. You can boo owner Rocky Wirtz the first time you see his face on the Jumbotron if it feels cathartic, even if you might be chanting his name again by June. You can try to ignore the Hawks as a form of protest, but good luck with that the first time they play the Red Wings.

You can stay away from hockey altogether, but your winter will be colder without ice.

Can we finally hear from Coach Q now? Coach Joel Quenneville goes from leading no team to occupying the hot seat in charge of a team coming off two straight first-round playoff exits. Put Patrick Kane on the first flight out of Zurich. Get Jonathan Toews off the podium and into the boards. Bring along Marian Hossa, cleared in December for hockey, slowly but steadily. The Hawks return to our sports consciousness with something to prove. A shorter season doesn't mean lower standards.

We can stop critiquing Bettman's decisions and start picking apart Hawks general manager Stan Bowman's. The Hawks still need a second-line center and have depth issues. They still have doubts about goalie Corey Crawford. They still have holes Bowman left unfilled during an oddly inactive offseason in which the Hawks only signed veteran defenseman Sheldon Brookbank.

They still have lots of questions to answer but finally they can. We don't really know how good the Hawks will be this season, but what fun it will be finding out.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh
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