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Updated Monday, January 7, 2013 at 04:18 PM

NHL, union reach agreement to end lockout

By The New York Times and The Associated Press

NEW YORK — After almost four months of rancor, threats and mistrust, the NHL commissioner and the head of the players' union stood side by side Sunday for the first time since the lockout began, a picture of amity and cooperation.

"Don Fehr and I are here to tell you that we have reached an agreement on a framework for a new collective-bargaining agreement," commissioner Gary Bettman said.

Bettman was speaking at 5:30 a.m. EST Sunday, shortly after a 16-hour bargaining session that brought an end to the often-bitter NHL lockout in its 113th day.

"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, the union's executive director.

The NHL board of governors was expected to meet in New York by Tuesday to vote on the deal ahead of a possible start of training camps Wednesday. Players are also expected to ratify the agreement.

Under the quickest timetable, a regular season of 48 to 50 games could begin by Jan. 15. But ratifications, paperwork and the players' desire to have one exhibition game could push that back a few days.

The stoppage led to the cancellation of at least 480 games, bringing the total of lost regular-season games to a minimum 2,178 during three lockouts under Bettman.

The agreement will be for 10 years, and either side can opt out after eight.

The salary cap for the 2013-14 season would drop from $70.2 million in 2012-13 to $64.3 million, which is the same amount it was for the 2011-12 season. There will be a salary floor of $44 million for the first two seasons. Each team will be allowed two contract buyouts to help get under the lowered cap.

Individual player contracts will be limited to seven years, or eight if a team is re-signing a player, the first time NHL contract lengths have been limited.

When the lockout began Sept. 15, Bettman said it was so NHL owners could get the same kind of deal NFL and NBA owners were able to get after recent lockouts. Those leagues, and now the NHL, have reduced their players' share of revenues. In the case of the NHL, the reduction is from 57 percent to about 50 percent.

Scot L. Beckenbaugh, deputy director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, emerged as a crucial player in ending the lockout.

Saturday's negotiations went on as players voted to allow Fehr to dissolve the union if talks stalled. Exercising that option probably would have ended the bargaining and pushed the proceedings into court.

But hopes of a settlement rose as negotiations went into the early hours of Sunday morning.

Beckenbaugh spent 12 hours Friday shuttling between the NHL office in Manhattan and the union's hotel two blocks away. Finally he determined it would be worthwhile to bring the sides together for a bargaining session, which began at 1:15 p.m. Saturday at the union's hotel and turned out to be by far the longest since the lockout began.

Beckenbaugh, 59, worked more than 30 hours Friday, Saturday and into the wee hours Sunday to bring the sides back together and keep them focused on the issues.

When the session began Saturday, there was a sense the talks could just as easily blow up as lead to a settlement.

Instead Bettman and Fehr came to a deal. Tired but pleased, they faced media Sunday morning, announced the settlement and walked away.

Fehr then turned to Bettman, patted him on the shoulder and said, "That was painless."

Hardly.

The league was a growing $3.3 billion business in the 2011-12 season, but the lockout cost almost half a season, alienated some fans and sponsors and, according to Bettman's own estimate, cost $18 million to $20 million a day in lost revenue.



Gary Bettman




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