Hockey, Players Sign Six-Year Deal

The National Hockey League and its players' association reach a tentative agreement to end the lockout that wiped out the recent season. The two sides negotiated for 24 hours starting Tuesday afternoon, and agreed upon a six-year labor deal that gets the players back on the ice for the upcoming season. The pact is expected to include a salary cap, something players had resisted.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

After a 301-day work stoppage, the National Hockey League and its players have agreed to a new labor contract. It's an agreement in principle now; it's expected to be ratified by both sides next weeks. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman canceled last season after owners locked out players and contract negotiations failed. It was the first time that a major North American sports league lost an entire season because of a labor dispute. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN reporting:

Details of the agreement won't be formally announced until the contract's ratified next week, but that didn't stop hockey players and officials from heralding the news. `It's a new day,' said Philadelphia Flyers head coach Ken Hitchcock. Flyers star player Jeremy Roenick was also quoted by The Associated Press. "To be totally honest," Roenick said, "I really don't care what the deal is anymore. All I care about is getting the game back on the ice."

Indeed, the players aren't exactly popping champagne corks over a deal that's expected to include a cap on player salaries, something the union adamantly opposed. Also, it's expected player salaries won't go over 54 percent of league revenues, a link between salaries and revenues that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said was necessary to provide financial stability. Jason Kay, editor of The Hockey News, says most analysts will portray the new agreement as a victory for NHL owners.

Mr. JASON KAY (Editor, The Hockey News): The players are going to take a 24 percent rollback, there's going to be a cap on what they can earn. So I think, big picture, you know, immediately, you can say that the owners got what they wanted; the players gave in on those points of contention.

GOLDMAN: Kay says there will be things that play out over the life of the reported six-year deal, however, that may make it OK for the players as well. He notes the National Basketball Association and National Football League have adopted salary caps, and the players in those leagues seem to be faring pretty well. Along with the new economic system, Kay says the deal reportedly proposes rule changes that would give the NHL a new look.

Mr. KAY: We're expecting the announcement of a shootout to settle tied games. We're anticipating another crackdown on obstruction, to cull the rules so that players can move more freely, you know, in neutral zones and all zones of the ice.

GOLDMAN: Another potential change would reduce the size of the goalie's equipment in order to allow more pucks into the net. More scoring, the thinking goes, makes for more exciting hockey.

But for fans still simmering about a lost season, NHL owners are going to have to do more than just make a few rule changes.

Mr. NIKA ALEX(ph) (Chicago Blackhawks Fan): They got to do a lot of kissing butt (laughs).

GOLDMAN: That's Nika Alex, a lifelong Chicago Blackhawks fan and a member of the team's booster club. Alex, like many fans, says a lockout was necessary for the league to get control of its finances. Still, he dearly missed his beloved NHL last year, and he says he's going to wait and see what kind of amends owners make before he renews his season tickets.

Mr. ALEX: I mean, I'm still going to go regardless, even if they don't anything. But I might not go as much as if, you know, they were offering incentives or different neat promotions or something to make me go a little bit more.

GOLDMAN: Alex expects ticket prices to go down since the league won't be paying players as much. If the new deal's ratified next week, the NHL season should start as scheduled the first week of October. Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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