NEW YORK -- And when it was over, the players-turned-negotiators showed the strain of a long, difficult process that finally ended at 6 a.m. Sunday morning with the announcement that the NHL and its player union finally had an agreement on a new CBA.
"It was a battle," said Winnipeg Jets defenseman Ron Hainsey, a key member of the union's bargaining team. "NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said a month ago it was a tough negotiation. That's what it was.
"Players obviously would rather not have been here, but our focus now is to give the fans whatever it is 48 games, 50 games the most exciting season we can. The mood has been nervous for a while. You want to be playing. You want to be done with this."
The collective bargaining agreement must be ratified by a majority of the league's 30 owners and the union's membership of approximately 740 players.
"Hopefully within a very few days the fans can get back to watching people who are skating, not the two of us," said the NHLPA's executive director, Don Fehr.
All schedule issues, including the length of the season, still need to be worked out. The NHL has models for 50- and 48-game seasons.
The original estimate was regular-season games could begin about eight days after a deal was reached. It is believed that all games will be played within the two respective conferences, but that also hasn't been decided.
The players have been locked out since Sept. 16, the day after the previous agreement expired. That deal came after an extended lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season.
"Any process like this is difficult. It can be long," Fehr said.