NHL, union have tentative agreement

Updated: January 8, 2013, 12:58 PM ET
By Katie Strang | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr stood side by side in the early hours of Sunday morning to announce there was a framework in place for a new collective bargaining agreement.

Although the deal still requires language clarification, legal fine-tuning and ratification from both sides, a verbal agreement has been reached on the major points that will end the lengthy lockout.

"We still have a lot of work to do," Bettman said, "but it's good to be at this point."

The deal still requires majority approval from the board of governors, who will meet Wednesday, when the 30 owners will vote on the new agreement with players.

The tentative agreement is a 10-year deal with a mutual opt-out clause after eight years and includes contract term limits at seven years (eight years for a team to re-sign its own players), a source confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com.

"I am happy deal has been reached and excited to get back to playing hockey," Penguins star Sidney Crosby said in an email.

For the first year, the salary cap is $60 million, but teams can spend up to $70.2 million in the transition period, while the floor is $44 million.

Sources said the 2013-14 salary cap, a very divisive issue, will be $64.3 million, while the floor will remain at $44 million.

Contract salary variance is capped at 35 percent from year to year, with the provision that the lowest year can't vary more than 50 percent from the highest-salaried year, a source told ESPN.com.

Revenue sharing will spread $200 million, with a $60 million NHLPA-initiated growth fund included.

The NHL had hoped to change the opening of free agency to July 10, but the players stood firm and it will remain July 1, although it will start later this year due to the delayed season. Regardless of the season's start date, the league at this point is suggesting April 5 for the trade deadline, a source told ESPN. The NHLPA has not agreed to that date yet.

Olympic participation will not be part of this agreement. The two parties will work on a side agreement regarding the Olympics and possibly the World Cup of Hockey.

Veteran forward Shane Doan said the players knew it would be concessionary bargaining from the beginning, but was satisfied with the agreed-upon terms.

"You knew you were in that position, and I think as a union we got the best deal we could possibly get, and you're happy," he said. "You're just excited to play hockey again and do what you really enjoy and have a passion for."

Word of the agreement came after the two sides hashed out their remaining differences for more than 16 hours at a hotel in midtown Manhattan. It was the lengthiest negotiating session and latest night of a lockout that has lasted 113 days.

George H. Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, issued a statement congratulating the NHL and NHLPA.

"The negotiated agreement represents the successful culmination of a long and difficult road in which the parties ultimately were able to reach mutually acceptable solutions to a wide variety of contentious subjects of bargaining," he said.

Bettman did not have details on a timeline for ratification or a potential schedule for the opening of the regular season. It is believed the sides are aiming for either a 48- or 50-game season depending on how quickly things get done. Sources told ESPN.com that a 50-game season would start Jan. 15, while a 48-game season would start Jan. 19.

The league sent out a memo Sunday night saying that Jan. 19 was the probable option for opening night, but that if the ratification process progresses quickly, Jan. 15 still would be in play.

Fehr said he hoped the next steps could be accomplished "fairly rapidly" and with "dispatch."

"We'll get back to what we used to call business as usual just as fast as we can," he said.

Both sides are committed to playing as many games as possible, even if it requires starting the season midweek, multiple sources told ESPN.com.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are expected to stretch into the end of June to account for the delayed start and compressed season.

The last stumbling blocks between the two sides -- Year 2 salary cap, contract term limits, variance and length of the CBA -- were resolved with the help of federal mediator Scot L. Beckenbaugh, who assisted in negotiations twice previously and might now go down as the hero of this lockout.

When talks went sideways after a lengthy face-to-face session Wednesday, Beckenbaugh diffused the tension by meeting with both sides separately Thursday and Friday. Those lengthy sessions appeared to have produced enough progress to bring the league and union back together Saturday morning for their first in-person meeting since Thursday.

Winnipeg defenseman Ron Hainsey, one of the NHLPA's most active participants in negotiations, said Beckenbaugh's assistance was crucial.

"There was a way to work your ideas through a third party, who was able to really help the process," Hainsey said.

The two sides also reignited negotiations with an ominous deadline looming. The NHLPA's 48-hour window to vote on reauthorizing the union's executive board the right to file a disclaimer of interest expired at 6 p.m. ET, providing the union the hammer to disband should negotiations go south.

The players chose not to go down that road with a deal in sight, however, just as they did earlier in the week when Fehr spurned the opportunity to file a disclaimer Wednesday night.

Before a deal was struck, the league had canceled all regular-season games through Jan. 14. The 2012-13 work stoppage marked the third lockout under Bettman's tenure.

The negotiating process -- which began in June but intensified when the league submitted its first proposal July 13 (one the players found almost universally insulting) -- has been marked by episodes of mistrust, missteps and a significant amount of enmity between the sides.

There were times players felt disrespected and underestimated, and that their willingness to make concessions went unreciprocated.

On the flip side, the NHL was quick to express, both outright and through back-channel avenues, its lack of trust for Fehr and what it felt were his "negotiating tactics."

Instead of leading both the NHL and NHLPA down the path of mutually assured destruction, however, the toxicity abated as the window narrowed on time left to salvage the season.

"We got through it," Doan said. "The emotion of it, you kind of ride the roller coaster of it up and down, but you kind of sense things were going in the right direction and you want to make sure they kept going in the right direction."

After the marathon negotiating session ended, there seemed to be a convivial spirit between the two sides. Chris Campoli, who got into a heated clash with owner Craig Leipold back in November, was seen talking with Bettman, while deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr shared some words as well.

Should the deal become official, the league will play a truncated season similar to 1994-95, when a lockout resulted in a 48-game schedule.

Said Doan: "Everyone's obviously relieved it's over and done with, for all intents and purposes, and we're able to kind of move on to what we all enjoy doing a lot more than this."

ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun contributed to this report.

Katie Strang covers the NHL for ESPN.com. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
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