- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2013

These were the words hockey fans were waiting to hear for the first 100-plus days of the NHL lockout. Commissioner Gary Bettman delivered them early Sunday morning.

Don Fehr and I are here to tell you that 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 told reporters in New York City.

On Day 113, the lockout was finally over and players and fans got the chance to again think and talk about games and not negotiations.

“Hopefully within just a very few days the fans can get back to watching people who are skating, not the two of us,” Fehr said. Bettman agreed.

It’s not official yet, pending ratification by the Board of Governors and NHL Players’ Association. But it’s all but done.

“We wanted to make sure that all the wording is correct and stuff like that,” Washington Capitals player rep Jason Chimera said. “But I don’t see it derailing a process.”

It was long and grueling process that not only cost the NHL games but hurt its reputation. The new CBA is a 10-year agreement, something that brings some stability to a sport all too familiar with work stoppages.

Other details reportedly include a seven-year contract limit (eight for teams that sign their own players) and a change to the NHL draft lottery that gives all non-playoff teams a shot at the No. 1 pick. The 2013 season will include either 48 or 50 games.

Unlike the 2004-05 lockout, this time there are no drastic changes to the on-ice product. But now that it’s over there’s optimism about what the sides accomplished.

“We hope that when we all get through this and play into this new CBA and we all look back that we can somehow say that it was worth this painful time or embarrassing time, whatever you want to call it,” Philadelphia Flyers enforcer Jody Shelley said. “However you look at it, it’s something we’re not proud that we went through, but hopefully it served its purpose and everyone in hockey, everyone in the hockey world, especially the fans, can benefit from it.”

Putting the focus back on hockey is a good start. Several months of contentious negotiations deflated fans at best and drove them away at worst. Ex-Caps forward Mike Knuble said watching the theatrics from afar was “incredible.”

It’s also incredible to consider how long the lockout lasted, compared to what most expected.

“I think it kind of snuck up on everybody and really snowballed into something that nobody really could’ve predicted. I think the general camp and players thought maybe we’ll miss a month or two, they’ll sort it out, no problem,” Knuble said. “And then it just got off on the wrong foot way back in August and that first offer. It sort of snowballed from there and became pretty contentious for a long time. Ultimately when Gary put out the drop-dead date, if there was any truth to a drop-dead date, it sure lit a fire under everybody.”

Knuble had an idea things were close Saturday night when he had dinner with former teammate and current Toronto Maple Leafs center David Steckel in Columbus, Ohio, where he was in town for his 12-year-old son Cam’s game. Like many others, he woke up to a text message informing him the lockout was over.

As of late Sunday morning, Caps right wing Troy Brouwer was happy but cautious, given the twists and turns of CBA talks.

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