COLUMBUS (AP) -- The waiting has been the hardest part for Columbus Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards.
"It's the Christmas morning that I remember when I was a young kid, 10 or 12 years old," Richards said of the arrival of the NHL season. "I'm excited."
The NHL and the union agreed last weekend to the framework for a labor contract and worked to put the deal in writing. The players ratified the deal on Saturday, three days after owners unanimously approved the contract.
Once a memorandum of understanding is signed, training camps can open and the countdown to the season can really begin. The league hopes that camps start on Sunday and that a 48-game regular season will get going on Jan. 19.
"Business is business, but it's nice when business is over," new Blue Jackets president John Davidson said. "Hockey players like to play hockey, and now that the business is done with -- and it was trying, no question about that -- now we can get back to doing what we do best."
The Blue Jackets, coming off the worst record in the league last season, were greeted by a 100 or so fans Saturday who watched their unofficial workout. Richards and the rest of the coaches won't be on hand until the contract is finalized.
About a dozen players were on the ice, with others undergoing physicals and others still flying in from hockey outposts. Defenseman Nikita Nikitin was expected to arrive from his native Russia, where he was playing for Avangard Omsk of the KHL.
Fedor Tyutin, who also was playing in the KHL, said he was beaten down by his lengthy flight. He was on the ice going through his paces next to those who had just traveled across town.
This is a transitional year for the Blue Jackets since the huge trade this summer which sent the club's best player, left wing Rick Nash, to the New York Rangers in a deal that involved four players and two draft picks.
Richards took over for the fired Scott Arniel at midseason last year and led the way to an 18-21-2 mark. His interim title was removed during the offseason.
The 25-man roster he expects to open practice with on Sunday doesn't include a lot of household names. He said an emphasis on playing with more effort will override not having Nash, who had been the face of the franchise.
"We have guys who have been here for a long time, we've got new guys, we've got some young guys, we've got old guys," Richards said. "There's plenty of faces for the franchise."
Goalie Steve Mason, the rookie of the year in the Blue Jackets' only playoff season in 2008-09, has struggled the past three seasons. He is being pushed for the starting job by newcomer Sergei Bobrovsky, who played last season for the Philadelphia Flyers before being acquired for three draft picks.
Mason believes the Blue Jackets are improved.
"This is going to be a hard-working group. That's the way we're going to win games -- we're going to outwork teams, we're going to grind them down and we're going to be really hard to play against," he said. "Going into this season, teams might look at playing against the Blue Jackets as a free pass but we're going to make sure we change that perception pretty quickly."
One of the players who came to Columbus in the Nash trade was forward Brandon Dubinsky. He worked out with the team in the summer, before the lockout started in mid-September, and got to know his teammates.
"Obviously, it's been a long wait," Dubinsky said. "Especially for me, getting traded during the summer and being anxious to get the season under way with a new team and a fresh start."
Stars eager to get on ice
FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Stars will have to wait one more day to see their newest acquisition on the ice.
Signed to a one-year free agent contract last summer, 40-year-old winger Jaromir Jagr didn't arrive in town from his native Czech Republic until early Friday before a case of jet lag delayed his initial appearance at the club's practice facility.
"The guy's just a presence in our locker room," said Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan, whose club missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season last year. "And when you have a guy of that stature and that ability, it makes people think you can win every night and that can be infectious."
The good news is Jagr probably won't need much time to work himself into game shape, as he's already been playing for the Czech team he owns, Kladno. With 24 goals and a league-leading 57 points in 34 games, the two-time Stanley Cup winner -- 1991-92 with Pittsburgh -- seems to have plenty left in the tank.
The NHL's eighth-ranked all-time scorer with 1,653 points, Jagr returned to the league last season after spending three season in Russia and compiled 19 goals and 54 points in 73 games with the Flyers. He had a goal in 11 playoff games.
One area Jagr will surely help is on the Stars' power play, which ranked dead last in the NHL last season with a franchise-worst 13.5 percent efficiency.
"We're going to put him in his position where he's had the most success, which is kind of running it off the half-wall," Gulutzan said. "He's an offensive guy, he's going to play around 17 minutes a night for us in key offensive situations and we're excited to have him."
Another key offseason acquisition, especially for the power play, is fellow 40-year-old winger Ray Whitney. The 21-year veteran, who finished 13th in the NHL last year with 77 points (24 goals, 53 assists) while helping Phoenix reach the Western Conference finals, will provide offense and leadership alongside captain Brenden Morrow.
"Whitney's going to help our young guys, he's going to help Brenden in getting our message across as well," Gulutzan said. "We're getting a great two-way player, a guy you can put on the ice against anybody. If you look at his minutes, he doesn't play easy minutes, he plays hard minutes and the points on the power play are going to help us tremendously."
Whitney, who won a Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006, said the key to a better power play is having more of them.
"You'll find the more of them you get, the more camaraderie you get, the more used to each other you get and your power play benefits from that. I think with (Jaromir) Jagr and Derek Roy coming in, the guys we've got on the point, I think it is certainly talented enough to be better than 30th," he said.
Between the two old-timers, along with other newcomers like Roy and physical defenseman Aaron Rome, the Stars are feeling good about their chances in 2012-13.
"It's exciting times around here," said Morrow, who turns 34 next Wednesday and is coming off a difficult injury-plagued season that saw him muster just 11 goals and 26 points in 57 games. "We know Ray already, he's been in town for a couple of months, and the experience he has, and Jags, we haven't met yet, hopefully we'll see him over the next couple of days. We're excited to get them in the locker room and to get the jerseys on."
Also missing from practice Friday was last season's leading scorer Loui Eriksson and 35-goal scorer Michael Ryder. While Jagr is expected to be on the ice Saturday, the full roster should be ready to go when training camp likely begins Sunday.
Predators start wooing fans back
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Pekka Rinne says making nice with the fans didn't enter his mind when the Nashville goaltender skated over and handed a puck to a smiling young boy.
The goalie was just happy being back on the ice with his teammates in front of a few hundred fans.
"It was fun to kind of play around a little bit and for sure it's always fun when you have little kids watching you and you know they love hockey," Rinne said.
The Predators tried to start wooing fans back Saturday for a lockout-shortened season. With the new labor deal not ratified by midday, the players put themselves through an hour-long practice with coaches forced to only watch from the stands. The team sold hot dogs, popcorn and sodas for 50 cents apiece in what they billed a "celebration."
"They're the reason why we're here," Predators captain Shea Weber said of the fans. "It's tough. Obviously they're the ones who suffered through this whole thing, and it' shard. But anything we can do to try and win them back, we're going to try and hopefully they'll stick with us and come with us the whole way."
Lee Bittinger of Clarksville, Tenn., was among the first fans in Bridgestone Arena, and she settled into the seats between the team benches courtside with her son, Matt Baker, and friend Vicki Salter all decked out in Predators' jerseys to enjoy a view she never could afford during a regular game. Her son even high-fived Rinne through the glass.
As happy as they all are to have the NHL finally back, Bittinger is the kind of fan the Predators and the league may not get back this season. She'll buy tickets for a couple games but said she won't be buying season tickets even for the cheap seats near the top of the arena where she usually sits.
"I'm still a little of my own personal little rebellion against what went on," Bittinger said. "I'm not going to even look at the rest of the season."
Caleb Waller of Nashville has been going to Predators' games since their first season in 1998-99, and he said he'll be back. He blamed owners for this lockout and is hoping the final details of the new labor deal help out small market teams like Nashville.
"I think owners need to come up with something to make fans feel they are appreciated," Waller said.
That's what the Predators tried to do Saturday opening up their arena for six hours with the cheap eats, and the turnout was impressive on a rainy day. The Predators also had face-painting for children with fans able to take photos posing with hockey sticks, while mascot Gnash roamed around as well.
A highlight of the practice came when fans broke out into a "Let's go Predators" cheer that coach Barry Trotz appreciated. Trotz said the Predators could have had a more formal atmosphere if the deal had been ratified in time, but he was impressed by the turnout.
"Everybody wants to see hockey," Trotz said. "The players want to see the fans."
The Predators themselves couldn't stop smiling once they wrapped up their session. Many had stayed around Nashville working out together at a rink in Franklin, Tenn., while six went overseas to play during the lockout. They tried scrimmaging near the end of their session before finishing up, but still were waiting for forward Sergei Kostitsyn to rejoin the team to build up their numbers.
But the uncertainty remained pending the final approval with the schedule for the start of training camp expected Sunday including the words "IF WE CAN START" on the board in the locker room. Trotz said he's ready to get to work the instant the deal is final.
"It's waiting like your flight's delayed at the airport," Trotz said. "That's really how it feels. It's no different. Yeah, we're just waiting for that to happen. Once it does, we'll get ready to go."
Still, the Predators were skating in their own arena with people cheering. Forward Mike Fisher said it felt great to be back.
"The response was great, and we appreciate it," Fisher said.