NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Hockey is back, and it took nearly four months and one long night to get the game back on the ice.
With the season on the line, the NHL and the players’ association agreed on a tentative pact to end a 113-day lockout and save what was left of a fractured schedule.
Commissioner Gary Bettman and union executive director Donald Fehr ceased being adversaries and announced the deal while standing side by side near a wall toward the back of the negotiating room and showing a tinge of weariness.
“I want to thank Don Fehr,” Bettman said. “We went through a tough period, but it’s good to be at this point.”
A marathon negotiating session that lasted more than 16 hours, stretching from Saturday afternoon until just before dawn Sunday, produced a 10-year deal.
“We’ve got to dot a lot of Is and cross a lot of Ts,” Bettman said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the basic details of the agreement have been agreed upon.”
Even players who turned into negotiators showed the strain of the long, difficult process.
“It was a battle,” said Winnipeg Jets defenseman Ron Hainsey, a key member of the union’s bargaining team. “Gary said a month ago it was a tough negotiation. That’s what it was.
“Players obviously would rather not have been here, but our focus now is to give the fans whatever it is — 48 games, 50 games — the most exciting season we can. The mood has been nervous for a while. You want to be playing. You want to be done with this.”
The collective bargaining agreement must be ratified by a majority of the league’s 30 owners and the union’s membership of approximately 740 players.
“Hopefully within a very few days the fans can get back to watching people who are skating, not the two of us,” Fehr said.
All schedule issues, including the length of the season, still need to be worked out. The NHL has models for 50- and 48-game seasons.
“We are not in a position to give you information right now about schedule, when we are starting,” said Bettman. “It’s early in the morning and we have been at this all day and all night, obviously. But we will be back to you very shortly.”
The original estimate was regular-season games could begin about eight days after a deal was reached. It is believed that all games will be played within the two respective conferences, but that also hasn’t been decided.
The players have been locked out since Sept. 16, the day after the previous agreement expired. That deal came after an extended lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season.
“Any process like this is difficult. It can be long,” Fehr said.
Time was clearly a factor, with the sides facing a deadline of Thursday or Friday to reach a deal that would allow for a 48-game season to start a week later. Bettman had said the league could not allow a season of fewer than 48 games per team.
Hockey fans in Manhattan seemed divided about whether the abbreviated season is even worth it.
“It’s not a season this year. They should have settled this months ago,” hockey fan Larry told 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten.