The lockout that seemingly wouldn't end was appropriately, and tentatively, finished by an all-night negotiating session in New York.
Multiple sources say the NHL lockout unofficially came to an end at around 5 a.m. Eastern time Sunday, after a 16-hour meeting between the two sides as they looked to avoid losing the league's second season in eight years to a labor dispute.
While the two sides met with a federal mediator late into the night after talks began early Saturday afternoon, the lockout seemingly came to an end innocuously with a Tweet from Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, one of the NHLPA's negotiatiors, who simply Tweeted a thumbs-up icon on Twitter at 5:03 a.m. Within minutes, the Denver Post, TSN, and multiple other sources declared that a tentative deal had been reached.
The end of the talks don't quite mean the end of the CBA process, as the two sides still have to put the deal on paper. That was a key point from the 1995 talks, when a tentative deal was reached, but the owners felt changes were made before the finished product was ratified. In addition, the league's Board of Governors and the NHLPA membership must still approve the deal, but if it meets the approval of their negotiating teams, it seems like a foregone conclusion the deal will be rubber-stamped.
Reportedly, the deal is for a 10-year CBA with an opt-out clause after 8 years, featuring a cap on contract length of 7 years (8 to re-sign a player), and a $64.3 million cap hit for 2013-14, as this year's season will feature a pro-rated cap for this season based on the original $70.2 million figure.
The NHL's original plan in its proposal to the players was to begin training camp on Saturday, Jan. 11, and begin the 48-game season on Saturday, Jan. 19, but there still is a chance that could be moved up slightly.
For the Capitals, under the old schedule, they are slated to play in Tampa Bay on Jan. 19, with the first date at Verizon Center on Jan. 22. While the old schedule is going to change, with a reported 7 games to be played in divisional opponents and 2 against other in-conference opponents if they play 48, it's expected most existing home dates will remain the same, although the opponents may change. In addition, 16 home dates are set between Jan. 19 and the old end of the season, the Caps will need 8 more home games in a 48-game schedule, and dates held back for first-round playoff matchups likely will be used.
The league also will have to deal with the backlash from fans, sponsors and broadcasters, as the length of the lockout caught many by surprise. Now the key for the NHL will be to undo some of the damage done by the nearly four-month-old work stoppage.
But, while the NHL lockout came into existence with a lot of posturing and rhetoric, it's kind of appropriate it finally slipped away quietly in the middle of the night. Big-time professional hockey in North America is back.