Players set to hit the ice as tentative NHL deal reached
Published Sunday, January 6, 2013 7:02AM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 7, 2013 8:11AM EST
NHL players are set to hit the ice at training camp as preparations for a shortened season get underway after the players’ union and the league reached a tentative deal early Sunday.
Players said they are eager to return to work and are primed for on-ice battle in an abbreviated season following the bitter 113-day lockout.
“I'm ready to play," veteran Flyers defenceman Kimmo Timonen said. "We're just waiting for the season to get started. It's been a long four months."
With more than half the season’s games already cancelled, teams will hold a brief training camp period before starting what’s expected to be a 48-game season.
"I don't think it'll be too tough," said Montreal Canadiens forward Travis Moen. "Guys are professionals, so you should have been keeping yourself in decent shape all this time.”
Players are also returning to North America after prolonged stints in Europe, where some kept their skills fresh. Some NHL teams worked out on their own during the work stoppage.
The tentative deal was struck between the NHL and the NHL players’ association after a marathon 16-hour bargaining session ended with good news early Sunday with what Canadian Press sources have indicated is a 10-year deal.
“We have a reached an agreement on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement, details of which need to be put to paper,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters early Sunday morning. “We’ve got to dot a lot of Is and cross a lot of Ts. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the basic framework of the deal has been agreed upon.”
But before fans could flock to the arenas, the agreement must be ratified by both the league’s owners and the NHLPA – representing about 740 players.
"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.
The details of the deal have not been announced, but a source tells the Canadian Press that the agreement includes a seven-year contract term limit for free agents, 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.
It also includes defined benefit pension plans for the players as well as a $64.3-million salary cap in 2013-14 – addressing two key sticking points in the negotiations.
Details regarding the length of the remaining season have yet to be released, but Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey told reporters he expects a 48- or 50-game season.
“It was battle. Gary said a month ago it was a tough negotiation, and that’s what it was,” said Hainsey, who has been a central figure in the negotiations. “The players would have obviously rather not have been there, but our focus was to give the fans whatever it is, 48 games, 50 games, the most exciting season we can.”
Bettman had previously indicated that Jan. 11 was a deadline to strike a deal to save the season.
Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan described the agreement as “the best deal we could possibly get.”
"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.”
Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who has struggled 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.
While hockey fans took to Twitter to celebrate the end of the lockout, some league insiders say the shortened season may also see a significant dip in fan turnout.
“This was really a slap in the face to the fans,” TSN Radio’s Ted Bird told CTV News Channel on Sunday. “The last (2004/2005) lockout was about restructuring the whole economic model of hockey and it was considered, or at least people bought into the league’s claims, that it was necessary for the long–term survival of the game. This one was more about two sides bickering over how to divide annual revenues of $3.3 billion.”
Bird said it could take some time for hockey fans to once again embrace the league following the third lockout in the last 18 years, all three with Bettman at the helm of the NHL.
Bird added that while many fans will continue to watch televised hockey games, some have said they won’t buy tickets to games or NHL merchandise – which are major sources of revenue for the league.
TSN’s Matthew Cauz said he expects to see a significant drop in game attendance by fans in the U.S., where news of the lockout was not as widely reported compared to Canada.
“If you have a 48 or 50 games schedule, every game means a little bit more in terms of the playoffs,” Cauz said. “Hopefully for the NHL’s sake this rise in intensity might bring more fans.”
Calgary Flames president Ken King publicly apologized to fans for the stoppage on behalf of his franchise, and said the team will “show gratitude” by giving fans a high-end performance.
"It's a pure and simple and humble apology to our fans," King said. "My experience with fans is that the reason they're fans is because they love hockey.”
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.
Exactly how much money the league lost during the lockout is yet to be known.
With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press
Main highlights, based on information from Canadian Press sources:
- The CBA will run for 10 years through 2021-22, with an option to terminate the deal after eight years.
- Players to receive defined pension plan.
- Owners and players split revenue 50-50 each season, with the players receiving $300 million 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 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.
- For the shortened 2012-13 season, an April 5 trade deadline and July 5 start to free agency have been proposed. The sides have yet to formally sign off.