NHL, players reach deal to end lockout

NEW YORK (AP) — They walked into a Manhattan hotel, knowing they were running out of time to save their season.

After 16 hours of tense talks, the NHL

and its players finally achieved their elusive deal early Sunday

morning, finding a way to restart a sport desperate to regain momentum

and boost its prominence.

Ending a bitter dispute that wiped out a

large part of the hockey season for the third time in less than two

decades, the league and its union agreed to the framework of a 10-year

labor contract that will allow a delayed schedule to start later this

month.

On the 113th day of a management lockout

and five days before the league’s deadline for a deal, the bleary-eyed

sides held a 6 a.m. news conference to announce there will be a season,

after all.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and union

head Donald Fehr both appeared drained, wearing sweaters and not

neckties, when they stood side by side at the hotel and announced labor

peace.

“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 said. “We’ve got to dot a lot of Is,

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.”

Lawyers will spend the next few days drafting a memorandum of agreement.

The stoppage led to the cancellation of

at least 480 games — the exact length of the curtailed schedule hasn’t

been determined — bringing the total of lost regular-season games to a

minimum 2,178 during three lockouts under Bettman.

The agreement, which replaces the deal

that expired Sept. 15, must be ratified by the 30 team owners and

approximately 740 players.

“Hopefully, within just a very few

days, the fans can get back to watching people who are skating, and not

the two of us,” Fehr said.

Fehr became executive director of the

NHL Players Association in December 2010 after leading baseball players

through two strikes and a lockout.

Players conceded early on in talks,

which began in June, that they would accept a smaller percentage of

revenue, and the negotiations were about how much lower.

“It was a battle,” said Winnipeg Jets

defenseman Ron Hainsey, a key member of the union’s bargaining team.

“Players obviously would rather not have been here, but our focus now is

to give the fans whatever it is — 48 games, 50 games — the most

exciting season we can.”

With much of the money from its $2

billion, 10-year contract with NBC back loaded toward the Stanley Cup

playoffs in the spring — and now perhaps early summer — the league

preferred to time the dispute for the start of the season in the fall.

Management made its decision knowing regular-season attendance rose from

16,534 in 2003-04 to 16,954 in 2005-06 and only seven teams experienced

substantial drops.

Flyers chairman Ed Snider told The Associated Press he was glad a partial schedule had been salvaged.

“I’m thrilled for our fans, I’m

thrilled for all of our people that work around our sport that have been

hurt by this,” he said. “I’m thrilled for the players, for the owners.

I’m just sorry it had to take this long. The great thing is, we don’t

have to look at it for hopefully 10 years, or at worst eight, and that’s

good stuff.”

Still, the lockout could wipe out

perhaps $1 billion in revenue this season, given about 40 percent of the

regular-season schedule won’t be played. And while the stoppage was

major news in Canada, it was an afterthought for many American sports

fans.

“They could have gotten here a lot

sooner,” said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based sports business

consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd. “They didn’t hear a hue and cry from the

fans, especially in the United States, when hockey wasn’t played.

That’s very distressing. That indicates there’s a level of apathy that

is troubling. In contrast, in the NFL when there was a threat of

canceling a preseason weekend, the nation was up in arms.”

At downtown Detroit’s Rub BBQ Pub,

manager Chris Eid said he was “ecstatic” when he heard the news. He said

the settlement was a big topic of conversation among his afternoon

customers.

“Everyone misses hockey,” Eid said.

Hockey’s first labor dispute was an

11-day strike in 1992 that led to 30 games being postponed. Bettman, a

former NBA executive under David Stern, became the NHL commissioner in

February 1993. He presided over a 103-day lockout in 1994-95 that ended

with a deal on Jan. 11, then a 301-day lockout in 2004-05 that made the

NHL the first major North American professional sports league to lose an

entire season. The NHL obtained a salary cap in the agreement that

followed that dispute and now wanted more gains.

“It was concessionary bargaining right

from the beginning,” Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. “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.”

This deal was reached with the

assistance of Scot Beckenbaugh of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation

Service, a veteran of the 2004-05 NHL talks, then Major League Soccer’s

negotiations in 2010 and NFL and NBA talks the following year.

Beckenbaugh spent Friday walking back and forth between the league’s

office and the hotel where players were staying, meeting with each side

to set up the final talks.

“Fans throughout North America will

have the opportunity to return to a favorite past time and thousands of

working men and women and small businesses will no longer be deprived of

their livelihoods,” said George Cohen, the FMCS director.

Sam Flood, NBC Sports’ executive

producer, said his production team was “counting the seconds until the

season begins.” NBC announcer Mike Emrick said players will have more

pressure because of the shortened schedule.

“The effect of even a two-game losing streak will be four,” he said

The NHL’s revenue of $3.3 billion last

season lagged well behind the NFL ($9 billion), Major League Baseball

($7.5 billion) and the NBA ($5 billion), and the deal will lower the

hockey players’ percentage from 57 to 50 — owners originally had

proposed 46 percent.

This was the third lockout among the

major U.S. sports in a period of just over a year. A four-month NFL

lockout ended in July 2011 with the loss of only one exhibition game,

and an NBA lockout caused each team’s schedule to be cut from 82 games

to 66 last season.

As part of the deal:

–Players will receive $300 million in

transition payments over three years to account for existing contracts,

pushing their revenue share over 50 percent at the start of the deal.

–Players gained a defined benefit pension plan for the first time.

–The salary cap for this season will

be $70.2 million before prorating to adjust for the shortened season,

and the cap will drop to $64.3 million in 2013-14 — the same amount as

2011-12. There will be a salary floor of $44 million in those years.

–Free agents will be limited to contracts of seven years (eight for those re-signed with their former club).

–Salaries within a contract may not

vary by more than 35 percent year to year, and the lowest year must be

at least 50 percent of the highest year.

–There were no changes to eligibility for free agency and salary arbitration.

–The threshold for teams to release players in salary arbitration will increase from $1.75 million to $3 million.

–Each team may use two buyouts to

terminate contracts before the 2013-14 or 2014-15 seasons for two-thirds

of the remaining guaranteed income. The buyout will be included in the

players’ revenue share but not the salary cap.

–The minimum salary will remain at $525,000 this season and will rise to $750,000 by 2021-12.

–Either side may terminate the deal after the 2019-20 season.

–Revenue sharing will increase to $200 million annually and rise with revenue.

–An industry growth fund of $60 million will be funded by the sides over three years and replenished as need.

–Participation of NHL and its players

in the 2014 Sochi Olympics will be determined later in discussions also

involving the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice

Hockey Federation.