The Washington Times - January 12, 2013, 08:04AM

Players overwhelmingly ratified the new collective bargaining agreement, the NHLPA announced Saturday afternoon, one more step to officially ending the NHL lockout and beginning the 2013 season,

In electronic secret balloting done from Thursday night until Saturday morning, players approved the CBA. Next, both sides must sign the memorandum of understanding so that teams can sign free agents and make trades and training camps can open.

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“While the players’ vote ratifies the new CBA with the NHL owners, a written Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) consistent with what the players voted on, must be completed before the Agreement becomes final,” the Players’ Association said in announcing the ratification. “The NHLPA and the NHL continue their work to finalize the MOU.”

The NHL schedule is expected to be released Saturday, as long as the memorandum of understanding is in order. The 48-game season will begin Jan. 19; the Washington Capitals are expected to open at the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The NHL’s Board of Governors on Wednesday voted unanimously to ratify the new CBA, a 10-year agreement that reportedly includes contract limits of seven years (eight for re-signing players) and a 50/50 split of hockey-related revenue. Other changes include the ability to keep salary in trades and the implementation of two compliance buyouts per team that can be exercised over the next two summers.

Expect a flurry of moves once the memorandum of understanding is signed. General managers have been allowed to negotiate with players but not yet sign them, similar to what the new “interview period” will be like before the July 1 start of free agency.