Boys are back in town

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

It's Christmas in July for NHL fans. After being frozen out of a winter of their favourite sport, it took a sweltering summer day for a hockey-loving nation's gift to finally arrive.

Yes, after 301 days of often brutal negotiations, the NHL and NHL Players' Association finally reached a tentative agreement yesterday on a new collective bargaining agreement to end the lockout.

The league and NHLPA issued a press release stating that the two sides must ratify the hard salary cap of $39 million US, with a 54% link to revenues before the deal can be made official, but both sides are confident that won't be a problem.

"Yes, I believe firmly this is a deal the players will support," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, a VP on union's bargaining committee, told the Sun. "We wouldn't go to the players if we didn't believe that this deal was acceptable and it would pass (a ratification vote).

"We worked hard to negotiate the best deal that we could get. We want to get back to playing ... once it's explained, I believe everybody is going to find that this is a fair deal."

GREAT ONE SPEAKS OUT

Player support was the least of Wayne Gretzky's worries yesterday.

"At the end of the day, everybody lost," said the Great One. "We almost crippled our industry. It was very disappointing what happened.

"For everyone to say 'all right, let's forgive and forget, let's move forward,' that's all fine and good but it's a lot easier said than done. It's going to take a long time."

Before the two sides can hold a splashy news conference in New York to make the CBA official, they're going to spend the next week mulling over the deal with their respective sides to make them understand the document, which is more than 600 pages long.

While it's believed the GMs will be summoned to the Big Apple this weekend for a preview of the CBA, NHLPA reps will meet Tuesday in Toronto before a general meeting and vote with 700-plus players next Wednesday.

If a player is unable to attend the vote -- a simple majority is needed to pass the new CBA -- they'll be asked to make their decision through the union's website. The NHL's board of governors will ratify the deal Thursday in New York.

"It's time to put the game at the forefront and forget about ourselves," said Senators centre Bryan Smolinski. "We've got to get the game back on track and we've got to get hockey back on the ice.

AS GOOD AS IT GETS

"I know there are going to be some guys pissed off at what we accepted. Sure, we could battle it out for another year or two if we liked. In fact, we could battle until we're blue in the face, but the biggest thing we all have to realize is that it's not going to get any better than this. We have to get back to playing the game."

Though there was excitement in the Sens office after the announcement, president and CEO Roy Mlakar was cautious.

"Any time you lose a year of hockey, I don't think it was worth it for anybody," said Mlakar. "We're glad they've got a tentative agreement, but there's really not much to say until the deal is ratified."

Mlakar said the club will hold a news conference to announce the season-ticket plan once the CBA is made official.

"We've got a 150-page plan that I'm not going to nauseate you with right now. We're going to have to work hard to keep our fans in this area, but I feel that we can do it," said Mlakar. "Once the deal is complete we'll announce exactly what we're going to do ... we've surveyed more than 50,000 fans in the area. We know what players they like, (in) what areas they want to see changes and what we have to do."

THE HEART OF THE MATTER

Some expected details:

- A $39-million (all figures US) salary cap with a floor of about $22 million. The $2.2 million in player costs (medical, dental, disability and pension) will not count toward the cap, but it will be part of the 54% linkage to revenues.

- The players are expected to have to pay as much as 15% into an escrow account which will be set aside until revenues are calculated. If there's a shortfall on the link between revenues and expenses, then the money is going to go back to the owners.

- No player can make more than 20% of the cap number. So, no player can make more than $7.8-million if the team is spending $39 million. Players with contracts higher than that figure will be grandfathered into the deal.

- A salary cap of $850,000 for rookies with a limit on bonuses. It should be noted there will be provisions for a player like Sidney Crosby to earn up to $2 million-to-$3 million in bonuses if he meets high standards.

- Bonuses are expected to be standardized for forwards, defencemen and goaltenders.

- The players can opt out of the deal after four years if they're not happy with the CBA.

- The players have accepted a 24% rollback.

- Contracts from 2004-05 will not be honoured.

- The unrestricted free agency age will remain at 31 in 2005-06. It will drop to 29 in 2006-07. The final four years of the deal it will be 28, but it's possible in the sixth year it could be 27.

- Teams are allowed a one-time two-third buyout that will not count against the cap.

- NHLers will be in the 2006 Olympics.


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