Kevin Allen, USA TODAY SPORTS
The NHL is back and federal mediator Scot L. Beckenbaugh will get credit for the save.
Commissioner Gary Bettman publicly thanked Beckenbaugh after he brought the NHL and NHL Players' Association together during a 16-hour marathon bargaining session that ended just before 4 a.m. with a new 10-year collective-bargaining agreement that ends a 113-day old lockout and ensures the start of the 2012-13 season
"There's still a lot of work to be done, but the basic framework of the deal has been agreed upon," Bettman said.
Details of the season have not yet been finalized, but there won't be fewer than 48 games and there could be more. The season will start on Jan. 19 or before.
"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."
NHL officials will be crossing their fingers that fans come back as enthusiastically as they did after a lockout canceled the 2004-05 season.
'Even on days when I thought I didn't care and would boycott, I was deluding myself," said Nashville Predators fan Michael Bagnall of Murfreesboro, Tenn.. "I'm just so damn glad to have my sport coming back."
Negotiations, contentious throughout the process, has boiled over Thursday, but Beckenbaugh brought down the temperature on Friday with some shuttle diplomacy and mediation. He went back and forth between the sides to determine where they had room to move on their positions.
Players had earlier agreed to a 50-50 split of the hockey-related revenue, a concession from the last CBA when they received 57%. But the final hurdles that were cleared game on the pension plan, where players will receive a pension plan similar to major league baseball players. Owners have agreed to accept some liability in that plan. Plus, 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 new CBA also calls for a year-to-year variance limit of 35% on multi-year contracts, and the lowest season can not be less than 50% of the highest. Originally, owners wanted a 5% variance.
"This means now that the owners and players are in a true partnership and have to work together very hard to grow the game and revenues in the next 10 years so this deal is great for everyone," said player agent Matt Keator, whose client list includes Winnipeg Jets defenseman Ron Hainsey, a key member of the NHLPA bargaining team.
It is believed that NHL players will end up playing in the 2014 Olympic Games, but it is not part of this agreement.
Bettman had given the sides a drop-dead date of Jan. 11 to reach a deal.
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. There is worry about more fan pushback after this lockout.
"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."
It was a mixed bag of fan reaction on Twitter, with some fans thrilled to have the sport and others bitter that negotiations took so long to complete.
"I moved to Raleigh from Charleston, S.C., last year just to be in an NHL city," said NHL fan Jenny Larke. "Today, I can wash the egg off my face."
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 NHLPA executive director Donald 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."