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July 13, 2005 - NHL, Players reach tentative deal

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NHL, Players reach tentative deal




INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

The NHL is about to get back in business, ending a lengthy lockout, which lasted nearly 10 months and cost the league the 2004-2005 season.

Shortly after 12:30 p.m. today, the NHL and its players' association announced an agreement in principle on the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement.

"I'm pleased that it is most likely over," Flyers captain Keith Primeau. "It's important that we begin to try to repair some of the damage ... and really try to salvage what we can of our game."

The reported six-year deal, with the players having a chance to opt out after four years, has a salary cap of $39 million, including benefits. This year's entry draft, according to league sources, is scheduled for July 30 in Ottawa.

The new agreement still needs to go through a formal ratification process by the NHLPA members and the NHL Board of Governors.

The lockout, which entered its 301st day today, began on Sept. 16. The ratification process is expected to be completed sometime next week, the league and the union said in a joint news release.

Fans also were pleased to hear the news. Mike Murphy, 43, an intensive care nurse from Warrington, described himself as "very excited" by the the end of the lockout. He said he looks forward to watching younger players come into the league and play under the NHL's new rules.

Murphy was a season ticket holder in 1991-92, but said rising ticket costs priced him out, so now he watches on TV and visits "every possible website."

Capping 10 straight days of meetings, the sides met for 24 hours starting Tuesday afternoon to hammer out the collective bargaining agreement that will return the NHL to the ice.

In February, commissioner Gary Bettman canceled the season, making the NHL the first North American sports league to lose an entire season because of a labor dispute.

The landscape of the NHL will be quite different than it was back in June 2004 when the Tampa Bay Lightning skated off with the Stanley Cup in the league's last game before the lockout.

Now when the league relaunches in the fall, it will do so with a brand new salary structure that keeps high-spending teams such as Philadelphia, Toronto and the New York Rangers in line with the rest of the NHL.

The expected salary cap will likely have a ceiling approaching $40 million and a minimum somewhere between $20 million and $25 million.

Player salaries will not exceed 54 percent of league-wide revenues.

Some players in recent days have voiced their displeasure over what will be included in the new agreement.

Bettman warned in February when he canceled the season that the offers the union passed up were better than any it would see once a year of hockey was lost.

Just days before the season was wiped out, the players' association said for the first time it would accept a salary cap if the league dropped its desire to link player costs to revenues.

Bettman promised "cost certainty" in the form of a hard salary cap to the owners and he has gotten it.

The first order of business after the deal is ratified will be to get a majority of the players signed. The belief is that last season's contracts will be wiped from the books, leaving many players without deals.

Those who are still under contract will have their salaries reduced by 24 percent, a concept first proposed by the union last December.

There will also be several rules changes that could run the gamut from the size of goaltender equipment to the installation of a shootout to eliminate tie games.

A draft will also have to be held soon, replacing the June event that was the last casualty of the lockout.

Canadian phenom Sidney Crosby is the consensus choice to be the No. 1 pick. Where he goes will be determined by a draft lottery that will give each team an opportunity to snag him.