Penguins CEO and president David Morehouse walked through an eerily silent parking lot outside PPG Paints Arena a few weeks back when, from a distance, he saw the familiar face of an usher.
"How have you been?" Morehouse asked.
"I just miss all the people," the usher replied.
Don't we all. The turnstiles at PPG Paints Arena have stood still for about four months now amid the COVID-19 pandemic. No one knows exactly when Penguins fans will have a chance to extend a sellout streak that dates back to 2007.
But Friday brought some better news. Great news, actually.
The NHL ratified not only return-to-play protocols, but also an extension to the collective bargaining agreement that should ensure labor peace through at least 2025-26.
"The most important aspect of the CBA is it gives the league, and it gives the Penguins, clear financial stability for six years," Morehouse said in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The NHL has a long history of labor disputes. Since Morehouse has been with the club, he's lived through the 2004-05 lockout that wiped out the entire season, the 2012-13 lockout that took away about half the year and several more seasons where uncertainty swirled.
He credits commissioner Gary Bettman, the owners, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and the players for their ability to work together during an unprecedented situation to find common ground.
"From the very beginning, there was never any talk of a bargain or a negotiation," he said. "It was always collaborative. I think all parties involved recognized early that it's not just the sports that are in trouble. We're all in trouble. We need to find a way out of this. The best way to do that is to work together."