After months of being locked in a labour stalemate, the National Hockey League and its players are finally ready to get back to work.
Early on Sunday morning — day 113 of the lockout — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed from New York the two sides had reached a tentative agreement on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement that will finally spark the beginning of the regular season.
Details of the new CBA were not immediately released, and Bettman cautioned they still needed to be ironed out fully.
The majority of both the NHL's 30-member Board of Governors and NHL players still need to ratify the agreement.
"We have reached an agreement on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement, the details of which need to be put to paper," Bettman told a news conference. "We've got to dot a lot of i's and cross a lot of t's. There's still a lot of work to be done but the basic framework of the deal has been agreed upon."
According to reports, the new CBA will run for 10 years, through 2021-22, with an option to terminate the deal after eight years.
Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman tweeted Sunday night the NHL sent a memo to all clubs indicating training camps would start no earlier than Saturday, and may not open until the following Monday. Friedman also said a 48-game season would then begin on Jan. 19.
The Stanley Cup playoffs would end in late June, according to other media reports.
"Hopefully within a very few days the fans can get back to watching people who are skating, not the two of us," said Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players' Association.
CBA nuts & bolts
- The CBA will run for 10 years through Sept. 15, 2022, with a mutual option to terminate the deal after eight years.
- Players receive defined benefit pension plan.
- Owners and players split revenue 50-50 each season, with the players receiving $300 million US in deferred "make-whole payments" to ease the transition from previous system.
- A pro-rated salary cap of $70.2 million for the shortened 2012-13 season followed by a salary cap of $64.3 million -- the cap is guaranteed not to drop below that number moving forward — in 2013-14. The salary floor will be set at $44 million for both years.
- Seven-year limit on free-agent contracts (eight-year limit when a team signs its own player to an extension).
- A maximum salary variance of 35 per cent from year to year, with no more than a 50 per cent total difference between any two seasons in the contract.
- The minimum salary starts at $525,000 this season and reaches $750,000 for the 10th and final year of the agreement.
- Teams can only walk away from a player in salary arbitration who is awarded at least $3.5 million.
- Each team will be given the option of two "amnesty buyouts" that can be used to terminate contracts prior to the 2013-14 season or 2014-15 season. The buyouts will cost two-thirds of the remaining amount on a deal — paid evenly over twice its remaining length — and will count against the players' overall share in revenues, but not the individual team's salary cap.
- Revenue sharing between teams increased to $200 million annually.
- Any player on a one-way contract who plays in the American Hockey League with a salary in excess of the NHL's minimum salary plus $375,000 will have the excess amount charged against his team's salary cap.
- Unrestricted free agency continues to open on July 1.
- The participation of NHLers in future Olympics has yet to be determined. The decision will be made outside of the CBA.
- The season will run either 48 games or 50 games and will be kept entirely within the conference. Under the 48-game scenario, teams play everyone outside their division three times and an unbalanced schedule internally, with five games against two rivals and four games against two others. The 50-game scenario is more straightforward with five games versus divisional opponents and three more against everyone else in the conference.
- For the shortened 2012-13 NHL season, an April 5 trade deadline and July 5 start to free agency have been proposed. The sides have yet to formally sign off on that yet.
— The Canadian Press
According to Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman, the sides settled on a seven-year maximum term for free agents (eight if the team is re-signing its own free agent). Friedman also reported that the NHL came up from its original salary cap demands for the 2013-14 season, from $60 million US to $64.3 million. The floor next season will reportedly be $44 million.
On the issue of salary variance, according to Friedman, the sides agreed that the lowest-paid season of any multi-year deal can be no lower than 50 per cent of the highest season. The sides agreed to split up hockey-related revenue 50/50 for the duration of the 10 years.
The Canadian Press also reported each team can exercise up to two "compliance buyouts" prior to the 2013-14 season to help get under the new cap, which will count against the players' share of hockey-related revenue.
Those hoping to see their favourite NHL players make the trip to the 2014 Sochi Olympics may have to wait a while to find out. Friedman tweeted that their participation will be negotiated separately, while he says re-alignment also remains unsettled.
Bettman 'saved season': Cherry
Hockey Night in Canada's Don Cherry credited Bettman for getting the deal done.
"For all you people that are going to watch NHL hockey this year, make no mistake about it, you're watching it because of Gary Bettman," the Coach's Corner star said through his Twitter account. "Bettman was the guy that had to pull the trigger whether this was done or not. He saved the season."
One of the more prominent players throughout the negotiations, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, was already gearing up to get back on the ice.
"I'm really happy a deal has been reached," Crosby told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "It's exciting to know we will be back playing hockey.
"I'm just so happy. So, so happy. It was quite a marathon, to say the least. I knew things were going well when I went to bed, but I didn't really know what to expect."
Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper chimed in as well.
"Glad to see a deal between the #NHL players and the league," Harper tweeted. Great news for hockey fans and communities across Canada."
News of the tentative deal came after a marathon 16-hour negotiation session with U.S. federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh in New York. Beckenbaugh, who was also involved in the 2004-05 lockout, was able to bring the two sides together for a marathon collective bargaining session Saturday after shuffling back and forth between the groups separately on Friday.
They were the first face-to-face talks since negotiations broke down on Thursday.
A series of proposals and counterproposals were exchanged between the two sides, beginning with a comprehensive 288-page document submitted by the NHL Dec. 27.
Bettman has maintained the deadline to preserve a 48-game schedule and have a new CBA signed was Jan. 11, but there initially was hope that more games could be squeezed in now that the deal was reached beforehand.
Players were losing $30,000 US in salary on average per cancelled game, with owners taking an even bigger hit to their wallets.
Among the major roadblocks to getting a deal done sooner were differences on issues like next year’s salary cap, pension plans, salary variance and contract limits.
The NHLPA’s trump card was voting on its "disclaimer of interest," which would give the union the authority to dissolve. It would also allow for anti-trust lawsuits and throw the labour process even more into a state of uncertainty.
However, a self-imposed deadline to disclaim came and went on Wednesday night with the league and its players meeting into the early hours of Thursday morning.
They had a second vote to re-authorize the disclaimer, which was scheduled to end Saturday night at 6 p.m. ET, but didn't need to exercise it.
The two sides encountered several major bumps in the road along the way to finally resolving their labour dispute and avoiding the second loss of a full season in the last decade (the entire 2004-05 season was cancelled).
In early December, several owners — including Pittsburgh’s Ron Burkle, Toronto’s Larry Tanenbaum, Tampa Bay’s Jeff Vinik and Winnipeg’s Mark Chipman — joined the labour negotiations, minus Bettman and Fehr.
Those talks fuelled some optimism, and even led NHLPA right-hand man Steve Fehr and NHL deputy director Bill Daly to stand beside each other during a press conference for the first time since the league locked out its players Sept. 15.
Don Fehr even claimed during a press conference the sides were "clearly very close" on core economic issues after the PA tabled an offer to the league.
Hope soon gave way to disappointment, though, as in the middle of the presser, a voicemail left on Steve Fehr’s phone revealed the league was flat-out rejecting the latest proposal. Bettman, in turn, was infuriated that Fehr would characterize the talks as being closer than they were.
It was just one example of what has been a roller coaster ride, and at times a mind-numbingly frustrating process.
The NHL is the only major North American sports league to cancel a full season because of a labour dispute.
All games through Jan. 14 — including the NHL All-Star Game and Winter Classic — were wiped out, adding up to more than 50 per cent of the original schedule.