NHL Lockout Ends as League, Players Reach New Labor Deal

2012 NHL Winter Classic Action Shot - P

The tentative agreement after 16 hours of marathon talks means hockey fans could be watching games as early as Jan. 15.

TORONTO – Hockey fans will soon be back watching NHL games after the league and its players reached a tentative 10-year labor deal early Sunday morning.

The end of the 113-day NHL lockout followed 16 hours of marathon bargaining between team owners and the NHL Players' Association in New York that started Saturday afternoon.

Whether the NHL plays a shortened 50-game season from Jan. 15, or a 48-game season from Jan. 19, will depend on how fast the new collective bargaining agreement is ratified and teams set up training camps this coming week. The sides had to reach a deal by the end of this week to allow for even a 48-game season.

A bug-eyed NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr emerged Sunday morning just before 5 a.m. to jointly tell reporters about the deal.

"We have to dot a lot of i's and cross a lot of t's. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the basic framework has been agreed upon,” Bettman said after a federal mediator, Scot Beckenbaugh, proved key to seeing both sides in the bitter labor dispute finally shake hands on a deal.

The new CBA replaces the deal that expired Sept. 15, just before the original start of the 2012-13 season. More than half of the season, including the showcase Winter Classic on New Year's Day, has been lost because of the stalemate. 

The deal must be ratified by a majority of the league's 30 owners and some 740 players.

The players' share of hockey-related income, which reached $3.3 billion last season, will drop from 57 percent to a 50/50 split. Free-agent contracts will have a maximum length of seven years, but clubs can go one more year to keep their own players.

The 10-year deal, with an opt-out for either side after eight years, should bring comfort to NBC Sports, which has a 10-year broadcast deal with the NHL that was marred by the dispute.

NHL play resuming also is welcome news for Canadian broadcasters, especially pubcaster CBC as it bled audiences and advertising revenue while it could not air live hockey on its Hockey Night in Canada telecasts and had to rely on repeats of classic NHL games.

Now the NHL faces up an uphill battle to win back alienated and angry fans. It managed to do that after another extended lockout erased the entire 2004-05 season.

Luc Robitaille, president of business operations for the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, said on the team's website that ticket and schedule details were being ironed out. He also cautioned that the CBA still must be finalized.

But, he added, "We look forward to seeing you at Staples Center as the Kings raise the Stanley Cup Championship banner and begin our title defense of the 2012 Stanley Cup!"