NEW YORK -- Open the arenas, break out the skates and fire
up the Zamboni.
The NHL is back.
After losing an entire season to a lockout, players and owners
ended an all-night bargaining session Wednesday by reaching their
goal: a tentative deal, which includes a salary cap, that
virtually ensures hockey will return this fall.
The six-year pact still needs to be ratified by both sides. According to ESPN.com's Scott Burnside, the players' association has scheduled a members meeting in Toronto for next Wednesday and Thursday, and a ratification vote will be held next Thursday. The NHL board of governors had planned to gather next Thursday in New York for a vote, but that may be delayed as a result.
"It's a new day," Philadelphia Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock
said. "It's pretty exciting."
"At the end of the day everybody lost," said Wayne Gretzky,
the NHL's career scoring leader and the managing partner of the
Phoenix Coyotes. "We almost crippled our industry. It was very
disappointing what happened."
The last round of negotiations began Tuesday at noon and
culminated around noon Wednesday with a joint news release
announcing the deal.
Though details won't be released until both sides approve it, a
salary cap would be something players' union executive director Bob
Goodenow never wanted.
A prominent player agent told ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek that the draft lottery will be held July 21, with the entry draft being held July 30 in Ottawa.
Once everyone signs off on the deal, the league can begin the
difficult task of gaining public support. No matter who won or
lost, the fight cost the NHL a full season.
"To be totally honest, I really don't care what the deal is
anymore. All I care about is getting the game back on the ice,"
Flyers star Jeremy Roenick said in a telephone interview during a
celebrity golf event in Nevada.
"I think the deal is not great for the players. It is
definitely an owner-friendly deal. For the last 10 years, the
players have made a lot of money and now we are in a position where
everybody is going to make money," he said. "Unfortunately, it
had to take a whole year to get to a point where we could have been
This lockout was worse than any in sports, dwarfing the one that
cut the 1994-95 hockey season nearly in half and resulted in the
agreement that expired last September.
In February, commissioner Gary Bettman canceled the season,
making the NHL the first North American sports league to lose a
year because of a labor dispute.
"I don't want to get to the relief point yet until everything's
finalized," said Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim
Rutherford, a former goalie. "What we went through was necessary.
We had to get some controls on our business and certainly I'm
hoping that's what this new agreement does."
While the NHL seems to have gotten what it wanted, there is no
way to measure the damage done to a sport that already was the
least popular of the four major leagues in the United States.
"That's going to be our next big step -- winning back the
fans," said Nashville Predators forward Jim McKenzie, a 15-year
NHL veteran. "We'll have our work cut out for us."
If all goes according to plan, a scaled-down draft is expected
to be held later this month and training camps will open in
September from Vancouver to Miami. NHL games will be back on the
schedule in October.
"It'll be a great thing to get the game back up," Columbus
Blue Jackets coach Gerard Gallant said.
Selling the sport might take a while longer.
During the lockout, disgruntled Buffalo fan Doug Sitler sold
more than 15,000 magnetic car ribbons that read: "I need my hockey
"I think it's going to take a little bit of time for people to
get back in the swing of things," he said. "But sports fans are
pretty fickle. They have short memories. They really do."
It took all night and then some for the final round of
negotiations to produce an agreement.
The sides met for 10 straight days in New York, and it became
clear Wednesday morning -- the 301st day of the lockout -- that they
weren't going to leave the room without an agreement.
The expected salary cap likely will have a ceiling of $37 million to 39.5 million and a minimum of $22 million to 22.4 million.
Player salaries will not exceed 54 percent of league-wide
revenues, expected to be around $1.8 billion. Players will also put
money into escrow, and after each season that will be used to
balance out the set percentage based on actual revenues.
Bettman warned in February that offers the union passed up were
better than any it would see once a year of hockey was lost.
Just days before the season was wiped out, the players'
association said for the first time it would accept a salary cap if
the league dropped its desire to link player costs to revenues.
That started a wild week that included the cancellation of the
season Feb. 16 and a false hope three days later that it would be
saved. Even Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux -- superstars turned
executives -- couldn't resurrect it during an emergency bargaining
session in New York.
Negotiations resumed in mid-March.
Bettman promised "cost certainty" in the form of a hard salary
cap to the owners, and he has gotten it.
The landscape of the NHL will be quite different than it was in
June 2004, when the Tampa Bay Lightning skated off with the Stanley
Cup in the league's last game before the lockout. For the first
time since a flu epidemic in 1919, there was no Stanley Cup
champion in 2005.
When the league relaunches in the fall, it will do so with a new
salary structure that keeps high-spending teams such as Detroit,
Toronto, Philadelphia and the New York Rangers in check.
The first order of business after ratification will be to get a
majority of the players signed. The belief is that last season's
contracts will be wiped from the books, leaving many players
Those who are still under contract will have their salaries
reduced by 24 percent, a concept first proposed by the union last
December. Some high-priced players will also be on the market as
teams pare payrolls to get down to the cap.
Even with the salary rollback, nine teams would've been over the
cap based on payrolls at the end of the 2003-04 season.
There will also be rules changes, some that could include the
size of goaltender equipment to a shootout to eliminate tie games.
"Our focus right now, from the coaches' standpoint, is we're
waiting to see what our roster is going to look like and what the
playing rules are going to look like," Hitchcock said.
The draft was supposed to be held last month in Ottawa, and the
Canadian capital might get to host the event soon.
Junior hockey phenom Sidney Crosby is the consensus choice to be
the No. 1 pick. Where he goes will be determined by a weighted
draft lottery that will give each team some opportunity to snag
NBC will start its two-year television deal a year late, but the
NHL still needs to find a cable partner.
"We are thrilled for the fans that hockey is returning to the
ice, and we're delighted to be the network television partner of
the NHL as it moves into what I believe will be an exciting new
era," NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said.
The deal finally came during sport's biggest lull of the
year -- the baseball All-Star break.
The NHL probably won't hold such an event until 2007. Next
year's All-Star Game is expected to be replaced by an Olympic
break, allowing for players to represent their countries in Turin,
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.