Sun, Jul 24, 2005 - Page 22 News List

NHL, players formulate agreement


The National Hockey League player lockout that canceled the past North American ice hockey season came to an end Friday when the owners of the league's 30 teams unanimously approved a labor deal that clears the way for play to resume in the fall.

"Today our board of governors gave its unanimous approval to a collective bargaining agreement that signals a new era for our league," commissioner Gary Bettman said at a news conference. "An era of economic stability for our franchises, an era of heightened competitive balance for our players, an era of unparalleled excitement and entertainment for our fans."

It also begins the era of the salary cap -- the very thing the union refused to consider and instigated the owners into their tactic of locking the players out. But a majority of players supported the six-year agreement in balloting Thursday, with 464 of 532 (87 percent) voting in favor.

"Let's drop the puck on a fresh start and a wonderful future for the National Hockey League," Bettman said.

No payroll will exceed US$39 millionor go under US$21.5 million next season -- including salaries, signing bonuses and performance bonuses.

"Our foundation for the future now is in place," Bettman said. "It is the mandate of this new partnership, achieved at enormous cost, to reconnect with our fans and refocus the spotlight where it belongs -- on the ice."

Under the new deal, players are guaranteed to receive 54 percent of league-wide revenues -- projected to be between US$1.7 billion and US$1.8 billion next season. A portion of every player's salary will be held in escrow if it is determined that revenues are smaller, resulting in players receiving more than 54 percent.

And they will be playing under vastly different rules.

The biggest shakeup for ice hockey purists will be the institution of a shootout, to ensure that every regular-season game will have a winner.

Goalies will have to stop those shots and all others with smaller pads, which will be shrunk by about 11 percent. The width of the pads will be reduced to 28cm and the glove, upper-body protector, pants and jersey will also be smaller.

Not only is their equipment shrinking, so is the area in which goalies can go to play the puck. Goaltenders can only go behind the goal line in a trapezoid-shaped area.

The neutral-zone edges of the blue lines will be 19.5m from the attacking goal and 23m from the end boards in the offensive zone. That adds 1.2m in each zone, with the thought it will increase scoring -- especially during power plays.

How the rules work will be monitored by a competition committee made up of four players, four general managers and one owner.

The adoption of the collective bargaining agreement by the club owners will return to league to a sense of normalcy, starting with the annual player draft.

The Pittsburgh Penguins won a 30-team draft lottery on Friday, and will have the chance to select highly touted Canadian prospect Sidney Crosby.

Still widely unknown outside Canada, the 17-year-old Crosby helped lead his country to the World Under-20 Championship in January and the Penguins already have said they will select him with their first pick on July 30 in Ottawa.

The Pittsburgh Penguins won an unprecedented National Hockey League draft lottery on Friday, beating out the remaining 29 teams for the top selection and the chance to sign 17-year-old Canadian juniors prospect Sidney Crosby.

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