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.” Washington forward Matt Hendricks received a text from Capitals NHL Players’ Association rep Jason Chimera at 5 a.m. Sunday saying it was time to get back to work. “There’s a lot of excitement and a lot of relief. We’re ready to get back to what we love to do,” Hendricks said. “In a shorter period of time there’s going to be a lot of stuff thrown at us — new systems. But I guarantee we’re going to be ready for it. Guys that I’ve been talking to are really excited to get back to D.C. and get things started.” 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 NHLPA 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.”
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