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Bulletin: It's game on as tentative agreement is reached to end NHL lockout; start of season is TBA

Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr announce the tentative agreement at 5:45 a.m. today. ( video)

By Mike Harrington

After a marathon, 16-hour negotiating session that stretched to nearly 5 a.m. Sunday, it's game on for the National Hockey League. The lockout is over after 113 days.

"We have reached an agreement on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement," Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a brief statement to reporters in New York City today at 5:45 a.m.

Multiple outlets that staked out the talks in a midtown Manhattan hotel all report federal mediator Scot L. Beckenbaugh brokered a tentative deal between the two sides that will save the NHL season. Details are sketchy at this point but initial thoughts are that training camp will begin Saturday and a regular season of 48, 50 or 52 games will begin Jan. 19.

It's believed the contract is for 10 years with an opt-out by either side after eight years. Contract lengths will be limited to eight years for teams' own free agents and seven years for those signed off other teams.

The most contentious issue was the salary cap for the 2013-14 season which the league wanted to drop to $60 million from this year's $70.2 million. Sportsnet is reporting the sides have settled on $64.3 million and a contract variance maximum of 35 percent from year to year; the league had been trying for as little as 5 percent in that area.

The salary cap floor for next season will be $44 million and there will also be two amnesty buyouts allowed per team. That provision will not be in place for this season. 

The players have also reportedly negotiated defined pension benefits, another key sticking point.

Said Players Association Executive Director Donald Fehr: "We have to do the legal work, we have to do the constituent communication work and at least from my standpoint and from Gary's too, we need to let them know the details before we tell all of you."

Neither side took questions. A news conference was expected later today but that is now expected to wait until Monday. The Board of Governors and Players Association must ratify the deal.

The union had voted to reauthorize its executive board the right to file a disclaimer of interest by 6 p.m. Saturday. But similar to Wednesday, Fehr never used the move as talks moved forward.

The sides marched on through the night until a deal was reached five days before Bettman said he would cancel the season for the second time in eight years.

The lockout has cost the league 625 games -- more than half the season -- and the biggest one lost was the Winter Classic that was scheduled to be played New Year's Day between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. The All-Star Game slated to be played Jan. 27 in Columbus was also canceled.

Said Fehr: "Hopefully within just a very few days, the fans can get back to watching people who are skating and not the two of us."

Responded Bettman: "Absolutely."

Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth has tweeted in Swedish: "Troubled that it has taken such a time, but damn right fun to start running again now!" (h/t to Google Translate).

Enroth is currently playing in his homeland and will have to join several other teammates in making a beeline back to Buffalo for camp in the next couple of days.

Enroth tweets in English: "Finally! Excited to get back to #beautifulbuffalo and start playing in the NHL again! Can't wait!"

6 a.m. update: NHL Players WILL play in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, as part of the deal.

6:30 a.m: TSN's Darren Dreger says it's possible training camp could open as soon as Wednesday!

6:35 a.m: Dreger also says the draft lottery will change, allowing all 14 non-playoff teams to enter for the No. 1 pick in a weighted system. Previously, you could only move up four spots and that limited only the bottom five teams from getting the No. 1 pick. 

6:40 a.m.: Statement from George H. Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service: "The negotiated agreement represents the successful culmination of a long and difficult road in which the parties ultimately were able to reach mutually acceptable solutions to a wide variety of contentious subjects of bargaining."

6:45 a.m: Sportsnet and CBC report the Olympics will not be part of the CBA but will be jointly negotiated via committess. It is, however, expected the NHL will participate in Sochi.

6:48 a.m.: In response to several inquiries at my Twitter feed, realignment is not part of the CBA and the Winnipeg Jets are expected to remain in the Eastern Conference for this season. I would think the Jets would be moved West and realignment would be put into force in some fashion for 2013-14.

6:50 a.m.: Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown, whose avatar is a picture of the Stanley Cup, tweeted just one word: "Finally"

7:10 a.m.: ESPN's Pierre LeBrun says a 50-game season would start Jan. 15 and a 48-gamer would go Jan. 19. 

7:12 a.m.: Penguins center Sidney Crosby tells Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: ""I'm really happy a deal has been reached. It's exciting to know we will be back playing hockey."

7:30 a.m.: The list of Sabres playing in Europe looks like this -- Jason Pominville, Christian Ehrhoff and Alexander Sulzer (Germany), Tyler Myers (Austria), Andrej Sekera (Slovakia), Jhonas Enroth (Sweden) and Mike Weber (Norway). Tyler Ennis played in Switzerland and returned. Thomas Vanek came back from Austria. Jochen Hecht is also in Germany as a free agent and looking for an NHL deal. He insists he's healthy from multiple concussions.

Myers suffered some sort of ankle injury in mid-December, believed to be either stretched ligaments or a high ankle sprain, and just returned to the ice for a game Friday night (he scored the shootout winner for his team) 

7:32 a.m: Sabres winger Thomas Vanek has just tweeted -- "It's time to order up some @WarriorHockey sticks! Go Sabres #letsplayhockey"

7:45 a.m.: Just saw new Sabre Steve Ott's reaction -- "Game On!!! #BuffaloSoldier Time"

8:15 a.m.: New info on buyouts from Sportsnet and the Canadian Press -- Teams have the next two summers to use the two buyouts (can do one each summer or two at once). Each will cost two-thirds of what's left on a players' deal.

Click here to return to the main Sabres Edge site for more on the return of the NHL throughout the day, including thoughts on the roster, the schedule and other lockout-related news.

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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl |

About Sabres Edge

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington |

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz |