After more than 4 months of painstaking negotiations and without a doubt the most asinine labor dispute in sports history, the National Hockey League and its players union, the NHLPA, came to an agreement in the wee hours of Sunday morning.
With more than half the season already cancelled, including the 2013 Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich., and the All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio, we can at last get back to what we know and what we love about hockey. It's time to drop the puck.
It wasn't an easy task. It took months of back and forth negotiations filled with highs and lows, threats of dissolving the NHLPA, mediation, deadlines to cancel the season, and marathon bargaining. When all was said and done, Gary Bettman & Don Fehr did what they had to do to get the players back on the ice. With the help of Federal Mediator Scot Beckenbaugh, the two sides came together and were able to save what's left of the 2012-13 season.
After a 16 hour long bargaining session that began late Saturday morning and ended around 5:00am on Sunday, the NHL and the NHLPA agreed that enough was enough, and that it's time to drop the puck. Shortly after 6:00am, Fehr and Bettman jointly announced the framework for a deal was in place.
Here are a few details of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement:
-10-year long CBA with an opt-out after 8 years.
-50-50 split of HRR, or hockey related revenue, between owners and players.
-Salary cap in year 2 will be $64.3 million, closer to the NHLPA's request of $65 million. $44 million will be the cap floor.
-Each team is allowed to buyout 2 contracts after this season and next season.
-Player salary variance cannot be more than 35%, and the final year of a contract can't vary more than 50% of the highest paid year.
-Free agent contracts are limited to 7-years, or 8 years if clubs re-sign their own free agent.
-The draft lottery will change. All 14 teams that don't make the playoffs have a shot at the #1 pick. It will be a weighted system, however.
-Brendan Shanahan will remain in charge of handing out player suspensions for on-ice incidents. Expect more Oscar-worthy videos from #14 & Co.
-The beginning of free-agency will remain July 1st, except for this coming Summer, which will be a later date.
-No clear date on the trade deadline for 2013, but the NHL suggested April 5th. It was February 27th last year.
-NHL players involvement in the 2014 Sochi Olympics will be part of a side deal, and will not be included in this CBA.
That pretty much wraps up all the major sticking points.
As far as who "won" this lockout? The answer is nobody. Both sides had to give a little bit to get what they wanted in the end. And the fact that more than half the year is already wiped out makes it an embarrassment to the league. Fans are upset, and anytime you upset your fan-base like the NHL has in the past decade, it's beyond awful. Nobody is a winner in this lockout.
While most franchises in Canada and the northern United States will bounce back with time, I'm worried about teams in the south. Selling tickets in Florida, Dallas, Phoenix, and Carolina (for example) will be next to impossible. It will be very telling in the following months just how much damage was done by this lockout.
The questions most fans are asking are when will the season start? And what will the schedule look like? It's been confirmed to me that the season will begin on Saturday January 19, 2013 with all 30 teams playing a game at some point during the day. The season will go until the end of April, with the Stanley Cup being handed out at the end of June.
Owners and players still have to vote on the new agreement for it to be official, and that could take until Wednesday or Thursday. Given that a number of players are coming back from overseas, training camps won't start until Saturday at the earliest. That gives teams a full week to get ready for what is certain to be a very grueling 48-game schedule. The schedule will feature only in-conference games and 4 to 5 games against divisional opponents. This obviously isn't great news for the Red Wings, being one of the only 2 Western Conference teams in the Eastern Time Zone. The full 48-game schedule will be released on Thursday or Friday of this week.
The NHL still has yet to announce if there will be any fan incentives, such as a free Centre-Ice Package or discounted tickets. I doubt the latter would happen. Wasn't this fight all about money in the first place? However, you can expect the league will do something to draw casual fans back to the game. All I ask is that they leave the "Thank You Fans" stencil at home.
We have professional hockey back. There's still much work to do over the next two weeks, but finally, we have a deal.
Follow @JeffDeacs on Twitter for all the latest news regarding the NHL Labor negotiations, and @robbenneian for all the latest Detroit Red Wings news, including prospects & minor/junior hockey.