EDMONTON, AB - The National Hockey League and National Hockey League Players' Association reached an agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) in early hours Sunday morning, ending a 113-day long dispute and getting the game back on the ice.
As a result, an abbreviated 2013 season will begin on either Jan. 15th or 19th and will consist of 48 or 50 games. Training camp will open in Edmonton and across the League later this week.
The new CBA is 10 years in length with an opt-out clause kicking in after the 2019-20 campaign. Some highlights include: a 50-50 split in hockey-related revenue (HRR), restrictions on individual contract length, variance on the year-to-year dollar amount on a contract, changes to the top-end limit of the 2013-14 salary cap among other, once-contentious issues.
"It's been a long process," said Oilers President and COO Patrick LaForge. "I wish none of [our fans] had to go through it or watch it. The good news is that we're out on the other side and we now have a long-term deal and partnership with the Players' Association."
The Oilers organization seconded approximately 20 employees to other businesses for the duration of the work stoppage and -- while pay cuts to some were inevitable -- not a single employee was laid off.
"This day is here for them because it's a turning point in their lives. They've been geat people and have supported us throughout this process."
Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini, who spent the bulk of the lockout shuttling back and forth between Edmonton, Oklahoma City and Europe, is excited about what's on the horizon as a result of Sunday's news.
"(It's) good to be back," he smiled as he stepped to the podium.
Tambellini is expected to announce a camp roster of approximately 25 players -- not including Andy Sutton (knee) and Ryan Jones (eye). Both players are expected to miss a considerable amount of time. Nikolai Khabibulin has been practicing with the WHL's Oil Kings of late, rehabbing a nagging hip injury that required off-season surgery, but he's expected to be cleared by Head Athletic Therapist T.D. Forss and other doctors shortly.
Regardless, Tambellini couldn't help hide his enthusiasm. 2013 has the potential to be a big year.
"I'm excited to see a player like Justin Schultz get his first taste of what playing in the NHL is like," Tambellini said. As a rookie in the American Hockey League, Schultz collected 18 goals (on pace to shatter John Slaney's record for goals among rookie defencemen in the AHL) and 48 points in 34 games with the Oklahoma City Barons.
"I'm excited for Taylor (Hall), who's had some time and has played extremely well in Oklahoma City to prove that he's an elite player. I'm looking forward to seeing Ryan (Nugent-Hopkins) after an incredible display of leadership in pressure situations at the World Junior Championship. And Jordan (Eberle) -- what can you say?"
Eberle leads the AHL in scoring with 25 goals and 51 points. Schultz sits second, with a wide gap separating him and the next best, Cam Atkinson, who has 38 points.
"They had to work for everything they got," Tambellini said. "Their stats were outstanding. Now it's time for them to get back to Edmonton. I was very happy with the players who played in Edmonton last year on and off the ice in Oklahoma City. I hope that all translates back to the NHL very quickly."
Schultz, Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins weren't the only ones having success. Ales Hemsky went back home to Pardubice -- scoring 14 goals and 32 points in 27 Czech League games; he could be poised for a breakout (or return-to-form) season. In the same league, Ladislav Smid played 22 games with Liberec and is already back in Edmonton.
Sam Gagner found playing time with Klagenfurt of the EBEL in Austria. Then there's that other guy -- Nail something. 18-year-old. He's pretty good, too. His experience in the KHL, Subway Super Series and World Junior Championship has been huge.
Others weren't so lucky. Starting goaltender Devan Dubnyk sat idle until recently when he got a chance to represent Team Canada at the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland. Posting a 3-0 record, Dubnyk allowed only three goals as Canada came away with the win.
"It was a good opportunity to go over and play," he said. "When you're off for that long, there are some nervous feelings about what it's going to be like coming back. I was trying to remember what I do on game day, how I prepare and whatnot. Being able to go over there, play and be back in a situation where there are 10 guys out there, I don't need to go through that again. I'm ready for camp now.
"It was a great opportunity and a great experience. I surprised myself a little -- I didn't know what to expect coming in."
"I was very impressed with how [Dubnyk] responded," Tambellini added. "I spoke with Doug Shedden (Team Canada's head coach at the Spengler Cup) today from Zug and he had nothing but great things to say about Devan -- how he played and how he interacted with his teammates. He put on a good show there."
Dubnyk is the Oilers' representative to the Players' Association. While he wasn't directly involved in the CBA negotiations, he was given constant updates and was in charge of relaying the message to his teammates. Player solidarity was key to the process, Dubnyk says, but Executive Director Donald Fehr's leadership was most appreciated.
Was it worth it?
"That's a tough one to answer," Dubnyk said. "Missing half the season is never really worth it. But I'm happy we can get going now and put it behind us. I don't want to declare a winner in this process, but there were certain things that we needed to have in the deal that made it worth sticking it out for (max contract length, year-to-year variance and pension). They're in there now, otherwise a deal wouldn't be done.
"It was good news to wake up to."
Dubnyk appeared in 47 games last season and posted a 20-20-3 record, 2.67 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. If called upon in 2013, he says he's ready to play them all if need be.
Dubnyk is chomping at the bit -- and so are hockey fans across the NHL. Let's get to it and drop the puck.
"We're very excited and we should be," he said. "It's going to be up to us to understand that, in a 48-game season, we have to go right away and we have to be ready to go. We've got to get out of the gate right away."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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