After 16 weeks, the NHL lockout appears to be over. According to the NHL website, a 16-hour bargaining session that ended about 2:00 a.m. PST, Sunday, January 6, has resulted in the league and its players (NHLPA) coming together on the framework for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that will bring the San Jose Sharks and the rest of the league back to work.
The deal was reached in large part with the help of Scot Beckenbaugh, Deputy Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services (FMCS). Director George Cohen termed his efforts, "Herculean assistance of the highest caliber," something hockey fans can imagine was necessary to get the contentious lockout to come to an end. Commissioner Gary Bettman thanked him for his part, adding:
"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..."
While we do not know scheduling specifics, the presumption is that there will be no inter-conference contests. This will reduce travel and allow for a little compacting of the season that would have been more than half over already. It will also make all games weigh more heavily on a team's playoff chances.
If the season were still to start on January 19 as Bettman had wanted, teams could now get over two weeks of training camp and find time for at least a couple preseason games. But there are certainly scheduling complications.
For instance, if the Sharks keep all six games against Pacific Division opponents, that adds up to 24 games. Three games each against other Western Conference teams (two at home against one division and two on the road against the other) would be 54 games that could be spread out over 16 weeks. That is fewer than four more games than the average over that time in a typical season, but the season would extend into mid-May.
Playing one less game against division opponents is not going to work because one team would be at a disadvantage to another rival because of an extra road game. Dropping one more game against teams in other divisions within their conference drops the season to 44 games—below the magic 48 Bettman has declared as the minimum—but would allow the season to end on time.
But after all the negotiation and the urgency to save the season, details like this are not going to derail the new CBA. What we do know about the deal shows that the NHLPA allowed two contract buyouts in the summer of 2013 to come out of their share of revenue but not count against the cap. In return, the owners finally gave substantial ground on three issues in the end according to ESPN:
- Instead of a five-year maximum on contracts—something deputy commissioner Bill Daly called "the hill we'll die on"—the NHLPA will get seven, with an eighth allowed for teams to re-sign players who have been with them a year or more.
- The salary cap for the 2013-14 season will hold at the 2011-12 level of $63.4 million ($44 million minimum). Owners had wanted that figure to be $60 million.
- The NHL went from a maximum 10 percent variance between contract years all the way up to 35 percent. This was done to prevent teams from circumventing the cap by back-loading contracts with years that would not be played to bring down the average salary.
Expect both sides to ratify the new 10-year (both parties can opt-out after eight) as early as Monday and teams will be able to start camps by mid-week. This is welcome news for businesses in the San Jose area that rely on the Sharks for revenue. It is also welcome news for a team that is running out of chances to hoist the Stanley Cup.