BOSTON (AP) – Bartender Matt Coleman remembers last year’s lost hockey season for the empty stools at Sullivan’s Tap that should have been filled with drinking, tipping Bruins fans.

The NHL lockout shut down a league and his bar, located across from the TD Banknorth Garden – at least for the 41 home games the Bruins never played. News on Wednesday of the pending deal to end the lockout was a huge relief, Coleman said.

“I’ll be able to afford a vacation again,” he said. “Maybe a semblance of stability will come back to my life. You’re living on the edge.”

The agreement in principle announced Wednesday comes after marathon negotiations on the size of a salary cap – the main area of disagreement. The deal is expected to be ratified next week.

Then the work begins to bring disaffected fans back to a sport that’s suffered a blow to its image.

“I hope the fans will come back,” said Bruins general manager Michael O’Connell. “It’s a terrific game. It just depends on the city they’re in.”

Rose Andrie, 40, a Chicago resident who was visiting Boston with her husband and three sons, said she was “highly disappointed” by the lockout, though she agreed with the owner’s insistence on a salary cap to bring financial stability to the league. But she didn’t worry too much about the lockout once she got turned on to college hockey.

“It’s fun to watch these young, hungry kids play,” she said.

The NHL hasn’t lost her, Andrie added.

“We’ll go right back to the pros,” she said.

Craig Cromwell, 45, of Boston, a 22-year Army veteran, said the league’s going to have to do something to lure fans back – maybe open up the ice to fans or have product giveaways. He understood why both sides did what they did, but it’s still pretty hard to relate to a dispute between wealthy people, Cromwell said.

“The players … are they thinking about us (fans)? A lot of times, I don’t think they’re really thinking about it,” Cromwell said, shortly after exiting the pro shop at the Garden.

Bruins forward Ted Fitzgerald said the apparent deal represents a new partnership between the owners and players that can help the league grow if they reach out to fans.

“We need to both grow and get out to the community and the fans and really promote the game of hockey,” he said.

Derick Mains, 36, the manager at Halftime Pizza, across from the Garden, said the dispute showed how little regard both sides have for the businesses around the arena.

The game is obviously the main draw, Mains said, but local businesses do their best to treat fans well and provide an experience that keeps people coming back. But they got hung out to dry in the lockout, he said.

“It shows they don’t care about the people that buy the tickets, and the people that support them,” he said. “I don’t think they appreciate what goes on around here.”

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