Federal mediator Scot L. Beckenbaugh brought owners and players together, but in the end, fear of losing a second NHL season prompted the two sides to reach an agreement to end a 113-day lockout and schedule an abbreviated NHL season.
Details of the 2012-13 season have not yet been announced, but a new 10-year collective-bargaining agreement was tentatively agreed to just before 5 a.m. ET..
“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the basic framework of the deal has been agreed upon,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said.
“Hopefully within just a very few days, the fans can get to watching people who are skating and not the two of us,” NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said.
It took more than 16 hours of negotiations Saturday into Sunday, with the big hurdles finally cleared when the players’ new pension plan was resolved, the NHL accepted a $64.3 million salary cap for the second year and players accepted a seven-year cap on individual contracts. Teams can sign their own players for eight years.
The big win for owners is that the share of hockey-related revenue is now a 50-50 split. The last CBA ended with players receiving 57% of revenue.
The new CBA also calls for a year-to-year variance limit of 35% on multi-year contracts, and the lowest season cannot be less than 50% of the highest. Originally, owners wanted a 5% variance.
Although the CBA is for 10 years, there is an opt-out clause at eight years.
It is believed that NHL players will end up playing in the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, but it is not part of this agreement.
Bettman had given the sides a drop-dead date of Jan. 11 to reach a deal. One was reached five days early when Beckenbaugh managed to get the sides back together on Friday with shuttle diplomacy after things looked they were falling apart on Thursday when the union sought a second vote to authorize a “disclaimer of interest” that would allow the executive board to dissolve the NHLPA.
Beckenbaugh was clearly the hero.
“Scot Beckenbaugh, next time I’m in NYC, dinner is on me,” Edmonton Oilers center Sam Gagner said on Twitter. “Thanks for helping get us back on the ice.”
George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service that provided Beckenbaugh, issued this statement:
“On behalf of the FMCS, I want to extend our congratulations to both parties for their important accomplishment. The negotiated agreement represents the successful culmination of a long and difficult road in which the parties ultimately were able to reach mutually acceptable solutions to a wide variety of contentious subjects of bargaining. Of course, the agreement will pave the way for the professional players to return to the ice and for the owners to resume their business operations. But the good news extends beyond the parties directly involved; fans throughout North America will have the opportunity to return to a favorite pastime and thousands of working men and women and small businesses will no longer be deprived of their livelihoods. Last but surely not least, 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.”
The question now is how fans will react to the second lockout in eight years and the fourth labor dispute in 20 years. The 2004-05 season was canceled by a lockout, but fans did come back enthusiastically the following season.
“Lots of excitement in store for our fans this season,” Florida Panthers owner Michael Yormark said on Twitter. “Announcements to follow. Thanks for sticking by us.”
The other question is what will the peacetime relationship now be between the NHL and players after a very contentious CBA battle.
“Any process like this in the system we have is difficult,” said Fehr. “It can be long. I’ve said repeatedly throughout this process that ‑ when somebody would say what do you see ahead, the answer is 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.”