Hockey fans, your long nightmare is over.
They've reached a deal. Over 100 days of no hockey is over.
You can finally exhale.
There is light at the end of the tunnel.
Early Sunday morning, while most of us were checking to see if there were holes in our eyelids (asleep), at 4:40 a.m., the NHL Players Association and the National Hockey League kissed and made up.
It took them over 16 hours to negotiate the deal but it's done and it was annouced by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr in the same hotel conference room where the negotiations were conducted with the assistance of Scot Beckenbaugh, Deputy Director for Mediation Services for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
"Don (Fehr) and I are here to tell you that 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 told the Associated Press. "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. We have to go through a ratification process and the Board of Governors has to approve it from the League side and obviously, the players have to approve it as well. We are not in a position to give you information right now about schedule, when we are starting. 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, hopefully, later today with more information in that regard."
Fehr, meanwhile expressed an eagerness for his constituency to get back to playing hockey after a negotiation that stretched across 113 days.
"Any process like this in the system we have is difficult; it can be long," Fehr said. "I've said repeatedly throughout this process, somebody would say, 'What do you see ahead?' And the answer was, 'You get up tomorrow and you try to find a way to do it and you keep doing that until you find a way to succeed.
"I want to recognize the extraordinary contribution that my colleague, Scot Beckenbaugh, Deputy Director for Mediation Services, made in providing herculean assistance of the highest caliber to the parties throughout the most critical periods in the negotiations," FMCS Director George Cohen said as part of a statement.
The new CBA, which still must be drafted and formerly approved by both parties, would replace the agreement that expired September 15. 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.
There are still some things that need to be worked out and the commissioner had said the league could not allow a season of fewer than 48 games per team.
All games through January 14, along with the All-Star game and the New Year's Day Winter Classic had already been canceled, claiming more than 50 percent of the original schedule, which was slated to start in October.
Under the new CBA, free-agent contracts will have a maximum length of seven years, but clubs can go to eight years to re-sign their own players. Each side can opt out of the deal after eight years.
The pension plan was ''the centerpiece of the deal for the players,'' Hainsey said.
The actual language of the pension plan still has to be written but Hainsey added there is nothing substantial that needs to be fixed.
The players' share of hockey-related income, a total that reached a record $3.3 billion last season, will drop from 57 percent to a 50-50 split. The salary cap for the upcoming season will be $70.2 million and will then go down to $64.3 million in the 2013-14 season.
All clubs must have a minimum payroll of $44 million.
The league had wanted next season's cap to fall to $60 million but agreed to an upper limit of $64.3 - the same amount as last season.
Inside individual player contracts, the salary can't vary more than 35 percent year to year and the final year can't be more than 50 percent of the highest year.
Then there's the issue of NHL players in the upcoming Sochi games in 2014. A decision on whether NHL players will participate in the 2014 Olympics will be made apart from the CBA. While it is expected that players will take part, the IOC and the International Ice Hockey Federation will have discussions with the league and the union before the matter is settled.
When the dust is finally settled, there is a chance that play could resume as early as next Tuesday. Granted, it's not going to be a full season but in the end, it's hockey.
It's time for the zamboni machines, the ticket takers, ushers, announcers, officials and players to get back to work. Time for slapshots, power plays and even a few on-ice brawls. Hockey is back after almost falling off the "sports cliff."
Let's drop the puck, eh?