NEW YORK — They walked into a Manhattan hotel, knowing they were running out of time to save their season.
After 16 hours of tense talks, the NHL and its players finally achieved their elusive deal early Sunday morning, finding a way to restart a sport desperate to regain momentum and boost its prominence.
Ending a bitter dispute that wiped out a large part of the hockey season for the third time in less than two decades, the league and its union agreed to the framework of a 10-year labor contract that will allow a delayed schedule to start later this month.
On the 113th day of a management lockout and five days before the league’s deadline for a deal, the bleary-eyed sides held a 6 a.m. news conference to announce there will be a season, after all.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and union head Donald Fehr both appeared drained, wearing sweaters and not neckties, when they stood side by side at the hotel and announced labor peace.
“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. “We’ve got to dot a lot of I’s, 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.”
Lawyers will spend the next few days drafting a memorandum of agreement.
The stoppage led to the cancellation of at least 480 games — the exact length of the curtailed schedule hasn’t been determined — bringing the total of lost regular season games to a minimum 2,178 during three lockouts under Bettman.
The agreement, which replaces the deal that expired Sept. 15, must be ratified by the 30 team owners and approximately 740 players.
“Hopefully, within just a very few days, the fans can get back to watching people who are skating, and not the two of us,” Fehr said.
Fehr became executive director of the NHL Players Association in December 2010 after leading baseball players through two strikes and a lockout.
Players conceded early on in talks, which began in June, that they would accept a smaller percentage of revenue, and the negotiations were about how much lower.
“It was a battle,” said Winnipeg Jets defenseman Ron Hainsey, a key member of the union’s bargaining team. “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.”
As part of the deal:
Players will receive $300 million in transition payments over three years to account for existing contracts, pushing their revenue share over 50 percent at the start of the deal.
Players gained a defined benefit pension plan for the first time.
The salary cap for this season will be $70.2 million before prorating to adjust for the shortened season, and the cap will drop to $64.3 million in 2013-14 — the same amount as 2011-12. There will be a salary floor of $44 million in those years.
Free agents will be limited to contracts of seven years (eight for those re-signed with their former club).
Salaries within a contract may not vary by more than 35 percent year to year, and the lowest year must be at least 50 percent of the highest year.
The minimum salary will remain at $525,000 this season and will rise to $750,000 by 2021-12.
Either side may terminate the deal after the 2019-20 season.
Revenue sharing will increase to $200 million annually and rise with revenue.
An industry growth fund of $60 million will be funded by the sides over three years and replenished as need.
Participation of NHL and its players in the 2014 Sochi Olympics will be determined later in discussions also involving the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation.
Notice about comments:
The Post and Courier is pleased to offer readers the enhanced ability to comment on stories. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point.