- Associated Press - Monday, January 7, 2013

NEW YORK (AP) - Now that a tentative deal is done, one big question remains: When is the puck finally going to drop on the long-delayed hockey season?

Few answers emerged Sunday after a wild finish to 16 hours of hard negotiating produced the agreement that will ultimately end the NHL lockout and get the players back to work.

There was no announcement regarding whether there will be a 48- or 50-game season and when it will begin. Those details are expected in the next few days along with a plan for team owners to vote on the deal. The board of governors could meet in person within a few days or hold a vote via conference call.

Both the league and the players’ association are working on a memorandum of understanding, which could be completed by Tuesday. Once it is reviewed, the players’ ratification process can also begin.

Knowing how long the wait was to get to this point, a few more days of anticipation shouldn’t be too much to take. Regular-season hockey games could be played within the next 10 days.

When representatives from the NHL and the union walked into a Manhattan hotel on Saturday, they knew they were running out of time to save the season.

After hours and hours of tense talks, the sides 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 Is, cross a lot of Ts. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the basic framework of the deal has been agreed upon.”

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 NHL Players’ Association in December 2010 after leading baseball players through two strikes and a lockout.

Story Continues →