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Game on! NHL has tentative deal

After six long months of negotiations, it took one extremely long night to get the NHL out of the boardroom and back on the ice.

A tentative deal to end the 113-day NHL lockout was reached early Sunday morning following a marathon 16-hour negotiating session.

"We have reached an agreement on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement, the details of which need to be put to paper," NHL commissioner Gary 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."

Before the new CBA officially comes into effect, it must be ratified by a majority of both the league's 30 owners and the union's membership of approximately 740 players. There is no word when those votes will take place.

"Hopefully we're at a place where all those things will proceed fairly rapidly and with some dispatch," said Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players' Association. "We'll get back to business as usual just as fast as we can."

Neither side has announced details of the deal -- which came together with the help of U.S. federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh -- but according to a source, it's a 10-year agreement with an opt-out option after eight years.

It also includes defined benefit pensions for the players as well as a $64.3-million salary cap in 2013-14.

Other highlights, according to a source, include a seven-year contract term limit for free agents and eight years for players re-signing with the same team. The deal also includes a 35 per cent yearly variance in salary and no more than 50 per cent difference between any two seasons.

The participation of NHLers in future Olympics will be made outside of the CBA.

"Everyone is obviously relieved that it's over and done with, for all intents and purposes, and we're able to kind of move on to what we kind of enjoy doing a lot more than this," said Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who was involved in the negotiations.

It's not clear when the season will start or how many games will be played, though Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey -- also a key figure in the negotiations -- said he expects it to be 48 or 50 games.

The league was on the verge of cancelling a second season due to a work stoppage. The two sides were working against the clock after Bettman set a deadline of Jan. 11 to get a deal done to save a shortened season.

The lockout will cost the league around 500 regular-season games, depending on whether there is a 48- or 50-game season, but the most important number probably won't be revealed for at least 18 months. The NHL was coming off seven years of record revenues when the last CBA expired, hitting a high-water mark of US$3.3-billion last season, and it remains to be seen how quickly fans and sponsors will return when the puck is dropped again.

After all, many hoped the league's lockout cycle would be broken when the entire 2004-05 season was cancelled to get a salary cap. But it turned out the shared history of the parties, which also includes a strike in 1992 and a lockout in 1994-95, was too much to overcome.

"It was concessionary bargaining right from the beginning," said Doan. "As the players, you kind of understand that and you accepted that. As much as you didn't want to, we understand that the nature of professional sports has kind of changed with the last couple CBAs starting with football and basketball and obviously hockey.

"We knew we were in that position and I think as a union we got the best deal we could possibly get."

Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who is desperate to return to the ice after dealing with concussion issues over the last couple years, said he was happy to hear the news.

"It's exciting to know we will be back playing hockey," he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

The NHLPA membership hired Fehr out of retirement about 21 months before the CBA expired with the express purpose of getting the players a fair shake in these negotiations. And the union's executive director made it clear that his players were still stinging after being locked out for an entire season just eight years earlier.

The Canadian Press


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