Printed on: January 08, 2013

NHL aims to stage a 48 gamer

By Larry Lage
AP Hockey Writer

The NHL appears headed toward a 48-game season for the second time in two decades.

"I think 48 is most likely at this point, unless the players can expedite their ratification process," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email Monday to The Associated Press.

The NHL shortened its 82-game slate to 48 games for the 1994-95 season after a 103-day lockout. A 301-day lockout in 2004-05 made the NHL the first major North American professional sports league to lose an entire season.

When the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement was agreed to Sunday morning -- after 16 hours of negotiations -- there was some talk of having a 50-game season start later this month.

The NHL and the players' association are working on a memorandum of understanding, which could be completed soon, then voted on by owners and players. The league has circulated a memo to teams telling them to be ready to play by Jan. 19, the date the shortened season is expected to start.

Some NHL players -- including Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin -- went overseas during the lockout. Ovechkin, who played for his hometown Dynamo Moscow in the Kontinental Hockey League, was welcomed back to Washington by the Capitals, who posted a picture of him on their Twitter account arriving at a local airport.

Players -- teammates and opponents -- who stayed in North America have been getting together for months to skate, conduct on-ice drills and work out on their own to stay in relatively good shape.

Penguins star Sidney Crosby and nearly a dozen teammates worked out at a suburban Pittsburgh ice rink Monday.

For a change, Crosby and the rest of the NHL players knew games will be played after negotiators for both sides -- and an outside mediator -- found a way to revive a sport desperate to regain momentum and boost its prominence.

The league and the union agreed to the framework of a 10-year labor contract, ending a bitter dispute that wiped out a large part of the hockey season for the third time in less than two decades. On the 113th day of the lockout and five days before the league's deadline for a deal, the bleary-eyed sides held a 6 a.m. Sunday news conference to announce there would be a season after all.

The lockout could wipe out perhaps $1 billion in revenue this season because about 40 percent of the regular-season schedule won't be played.

The NHL's revenue of $3.3 billion last season lagged well behind the NFL ($9 billion), Major League Baseball ($7.5 billion) and the NBA ($5 billion). The new deal will lower the players' percentage from 57 to 50 after owners originally had proposed the players get 46 percent.

This was the third lockout among the major U.S. sports in a period of just over a year. A four-month NFL lockout ended in July 2011 with the loss of only one exhibition game, and an NBA lockout caused each team's schedule to be cut from 82 games to 66 last season.