The National Hockey League and NHL Players' Assn. reached tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement early Sunday morning, opening the way for training camps to open later this week after both sides put on paper and ratify the terms of the complex agreement.
“The framework of a deal has been agreed upon,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters at a news conference held shortly before 6 a.m. EST.
Both sides said work remained to be done on many issues but they were able to compromise on their key differences. The term of the deal will be 10 years, with a mutual opt-out clause after eight years; the maximum length of player contracts will be seven years with an exception permitting teams to re-sign their own free agents for eight years, and the salary cap for the 2013-14 season was set at $64.3 million with a floor (minimum) of $44 million.
Other provisions, such as a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues, had been previously agreed upon.
“Hopefully in a few days people can start watching people who are skating and not us,” NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr told reporters in New York.
Said Bettman: “Absolutely.”
The league did not announce the dates for camps or the season to open but it expects to make those details public later Sunday or on Monday. If the ratification process goes quickly, teams might be able to squeeze in 50 games. Bettman has said 48 games would be the fewest that could be played in a season with “integrity.”
Like the 1994-95 season, which was shortened to 48 games by a league-imposed lockout, this season is expected to be limited to intraconference play in order to emphasis geographic and conference rivalries and potentially win back fans who were alienated by the labor unrest.
The NHL locked out players on Sept. 15, claiming it could not continue paying players 57% of hockey-related revenues, as it did last season under the previous labor deal. Its first offer was to give players 43% of revenues, which angered players and might have prolonged the negotiating process.
The salary cap for the 2012-13 season will be a prorated portion of the $70.2 that was agreed upon for this season. Teams will be allowed to buy out two contracts before the 2013-14 season and those contracts will not count against the team’s salary cap.
A marathon negotiating session on Saturday that once again involved federal mediator Scot L. Beckenbaugh helped break their long and bitter stalemate. They have not completed all the details of some provisions, including the hot-button topic of the league’s liability for players’ pensions, but they felt they had accords on enough pivotal issues to announce the tentative agreement.
Bettman had come under increasing pressure recently from owners of big-market teams that wanted to launch the season, but he felt obligated to protect small-market teams and get them a lower salary cap and lower salary floor. After weeks of little talk and no negotiating, Bettman presented a 288-page proposal to the NHLPA on Dec. 27.
That move touched off an accelerated round of talks that nearly went off the rails at least once, when the NHL tried to reduce the penalties levied against teams that under-report hockey-related revenues. However, they managed a breakthrough in the early hours Sunday, thanks in no small part to the work of Beckenbaugh.
George H. Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, singled out Beckenbaugh for providing “assistance of the highest caliber to the parties throughout the most critical periods in the negotiations.”
Cohen added, “On behalf of the FMCS, I want to extend our congratulations to both parties for their important accomplishment. 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.”