At 5:30 Sunday morning, Flyers winger Scott Hartnell texted the good news to his teammates.
"Deal done, boys."
When Jody Shelley read Hartnell's text that the NHL's 113-day labor dispute had ended, he did a double take.
"I didn't know whether to believe him," Shelley, the Flyers' enforcer, said Sunday afternoon. "I was like, 'Yeah, right.' And then I did a little research on Twitter, and it was blowing up."
Hartnell wasn't fibbing. The NHL and the players' union reached a tentative agreement at around 5 a.m. on a 10-year collective bargaining agreement, putting an end to a work stoppage that lasted almost four months.
Tweeted Flyers forward Max Talbot: "Thanks/sorry Fans media and everyone affected by this lockout. Never a fun situation. Now lets go play some hockey!"
The agreement ended a long, contentious battle between players and owners, with NHL commissioner Garry Bettman and union boss Donald Fehr portrayed as the villains.
"I wasn't a fan of the game, either, the last few months," Flyers center Claude Giroux told TSN in Canada.
The league is expected to announce a 48- or 50-game schedule, perhaps as early as Monday. A 50-game season would start Jan. 15, while a 48-gamer would begin Jan. 19.
The schedule and key dates may be announced Monday, a league spokesman said. Training camps could open as early as Wednesday, depending on when the agreement's paperwork is finalized.
The 2004-05 lockout, which canceled the entire season, did not hurt the NHL's fan base the following season. No one knows whether this work stoppage will affect attendance.
"It's sad for me to hear that a lot of people think the game has been damaged and people won't come back," Devils goalie Martin Brodeur told the Record of Hackensack, N.J. "We'll get back all the guys and try to give them the game of hockey. It's not the business of hockey that the fans should be a fan of."
Brodeur said the players will "just work hard to get these people back."
With federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh leading the way, the sides reached the agreement, which has to be ratified by the players' union, after 16 hours of negotiating Saturday and into Sunday.
The NHL accepted a $64.3 million salary cap in the second year of the CBA, and the players agreed to a seven-year maximum on individual contracts -- eight if a team re-signs one of its players.
There will be a maximum salary variance of 35 percent from year to year, an attempt to stop the front-loaded or back-diving deals that management was using to lower the overall cap hit of players such as the Flyers' Chris Pronger.
In a bit of a surprise, the NHL conceded that the variance can be no more than 50 percent of the highest year. In other words, if $10 million is the high point of a long-term contract, the player cannot receive less than $5 million in any year.
This season, the salary cap will be $70.2 million, prorated over 48 or 50 games. The cap floor will be $44 million for each of the next two seasons.
The owners and players will have a 50/50 split of hockey-related revenue -- the union received 57 percent in the last CBA. The players will also receive $300 million in deferred "make whole" payments to ease the transition.
Before the 2013-14 or 2014-15 seasons, there will be a maximum of two amnesty buyouts that clubs are allowed to use. According to reports, the buyouts will cost two-thirds of the remaining amount on a contract and will count against the players' overall share in revenues, but not against the team's salary cap.
On the pension plan, the league reportedly agreed to share limited long-term liability with the union.
In the new CBA, the sides have an opt-out clause after eight years. Still, the agreement ensures there will be labor peace until the end of 2019-20 -- and perhaps beyond.
"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 while standing next to Fehr, the NHL Players' Association's executive director. "We've got to dot a lot of I's and cross a lot of T's. There's still a lot of work to be done, but the basic framework of the deal has been agreed upon."
Fehr was analytical when describing the arduous process.
"A negotiation like this in the system that we have is difficult. It can be long," he said. "I've said repeatedly throughout this process if somebody would say, 'What do you see ahead?' and the answer was you get up tomorrow and try to find a way to do it, and you keep doing that until you find a way to succeed."
Some NHL players played in Europe and some competed in the AHL during the lockout. Others stayed in shape by skating and working out at local arenas.
"I'm just glad it's finally over," said Flyers forward Brayden Schenn, who has been playing for the AHL's Adirondack Phantoms. "There were a lot of highs and lows."
Playing for the Phantoms, Schenn said, at least gave him a chance to forget about the labor stoppage.
"My mind was focused on being here with the Phantoms and going through a routine," he said. "That helped."
In the new CBA, the NHL's minimum salary starts at $525,000 (the same as last season) and reaches $750,000 in the 10th year of the agreement.
In the lockout-delayed 1995 season, the schedule opened Jan. 20, and the trade deadline was pushed back to April 7. The playoffs started May 6 and ended June 24, when New Jersey completed its sweep of Detroit.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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