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 2 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 5 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 Is, cross a lot of Ts. 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.