By Mike Harrington
Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller was like plenty of people across North America today -- he was asleep when the NHL and NHLPA finally came to their tentative agreement to end the lockout just before 5 a.m. Eastern time.
"I learned of the deal when I woke up to my wife saying, 'Yay, it's over,' " Miller said this afternoon in a text message to The Buffalo News from his home in Southern California.
Miller, like virtually all players, understands the damage the lockout has done to the NHL brand and knows some quick work will be needed to regain fans' trust. The Sabres have had fewer than 50 season-ticket cancellations out of their 15,400 but this is a rabid hockey town. Not every NHL city is.
"I am happy the Buffalo fans were so patient. I'm not sure we get that in every market," Miller said. "The NHL is taking a big risk. Hope we don't injure the game beyond repair."
In an e-mail to the Toronto Globe & Mail earlier in the day, Miller apologized to the fans for their frustration.
“I know an apology doesn’t make it all better, but it’s a place to start," Miller told the paper. "I’m sorry and I hope that fans will forgive us for the role we played in this lockout. We will show up ready to play if they want to come to the rink and watch.”
Miller was not a part of the final bargaining sessions but was intimately involved when talks nearly reached a deal before breaking off last month.
"Players should feel good about their resolve,” Miller told the Globe & Mail. "This was never a deal where we were going to do anything other than minimize what we gave back to the league. “I think Don did a great job of guiding us through what was a very tough situation –- without threatening a full season --from our side.”
Given my background covering Major League Baseball -- which had a nuclear summer in 1994 but is now approaching 20 years of labor peace -- I asked Miller for more insight on Fehr in these negotiations.
"I think Don was great," Miller wrote. "I know a lot of people were judging him based on baseball but in this situation he did what was right for us. He listened and considered our opinion and gave the players all the information available. Part of business at a multi-billion dollar level is to take every advantage you can. There is a lot of misinformation out there about Don but from my side he was honest and professional and he cared."