Lockout ends with owners' approval
NEW YORK -- In a span of 90 minutes, the NHL showed off its new labor agreement and its new rules, and even had time to find a home for the league's newest phenom.
After a year without action, the NHL crammed lots of it into a busy Friday.
The league's board of governors voted 30-0 to pass the salary cap-based collective bargaining agreement that the players' association overwhelmingly approved Thursday.
"When you look back in a year, five, 10, this era in history -- today in particular -- will be viewed as a pivotal point in time," commissioner Gary Bettman said. "It's the time where we could begin to move forward, finally in an effective way where the game could be as good as it could be.
"This will probably be a seminal moment," he said.
With the help of a new competition committee, a slew of changes were put into effect starting with opening night on Oct. 5 when every team will be in action.
Listen up, Sidney Crosby.
The soon-to-be 18-year-old forward will have a lot to learn before he makes his NHL debut, but he found out Friday he will have an excellent teacher.
He was the guy every team wanted, and every team had a shot.
Bettman opened 28 envelopes, leaving just Pittsburgh and Anaheim with a chance to get "The Next One." With the help of the four-leaf clover Penguins general manager Craig Patrick held in his hand, Pittsburgh skated off with Crosby.
"I think he's a fantastic fit," Patrick said. "To be able to add someone of Sidney's talent, my mind goes round and round with possibilities."
The Penguins had the fewest points during the 2003-04 season, but they will pick first for the second time in three drafts. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury went No. 1 two years ago, and Pittsburgh took Russian forward Evgeni Malkin at No. 2 last year.
"We've been fortunate over the years to bring in young people," Patrick said. "We let them grow slowly. We wouldn't put a lot of pressure on Sidney to try to carry our team. He's just one of the young players that will carry the flag down the road."
That road, Bettman said, will be just what the NHL needs as it enters a true revenue partnership with its players.
Marketing will be key for the league that ranks last in popularity among the four major U.S. sports leagues. Anything that can drum up interest will be tried, including an increase in intradivisional and intraconference games.
Teams will play eight games against all division foes, four against other teams in the conference and 10 interconference games.
NHL players will participate in the Olympics next year in Turin, Italy, and four years later in Vancouver, Bettman said. The league will skip its All-Star festivities in both seasons.
The biggest shake-up for 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 11 inches 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 64 feet from the attacking goal and 75 feet from the end boards in the offensive zone. That adds four feet in each zone, with the thought it will increase scoring -- especially during power plays.
The center red line has been taken out of play, allowing for previously offsides two-line passes. Although no-touch icing wasn't added, players who make long, home-run type passes that miss their target will not be whistled for icing.
But when it comes to traditional shots down the ice to clear the defensive zone, icing will be called and the offending team will be forced to keep its tired players on for ensuing faceoffs.
Again, the league is also looking to enforce a ban on obstruction strictly. Less clutching and grabbing should lead to more wide-open skating.
"I do think that a lot of these things will take time to develop," Detroit forward Brendan Shanahan said. "Certainly some of the changes will be immediate to the eye and exciting to the eye, but realistically there will be a time period."
The competition committee will start off with four players, four general managers and one owner. As different issues come along, there could be additional members added depending upon their expertise.
Bettman's vision of cost certainty that the league's owners empowered him to get is now the NHL's reality.
No team's payroll will exceed $39 million or go under $21.5 million next season -- including salaries, signing bonuses and performance bonuses. The six-year deal also stipulates that total player costs will not exceed 54 percent of league revenues.
A cap tied to revenues was a solution the players' association vowed never to accept. But the rank and file membership approved the deal with 464 of 532 players (87 percent) voting in favor.
"We couldn't continue the way we were," Bettman said. "We couldn't have operated another season. The best thing that I can say to our fans is we're back, we're going to be better than ever and we're going to make it up to you."
Under the new deal, players are guaranteed to receive 54 percent of league-wide revenues -- projected to be between $1.7 billion and $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.
With the deal officially in place, a frenzy of player movement is set to start Saturday. And the flurry of signings won't really calm down until training camps open in September.
Some teams only have a handful of players under contract, and many big-name stars will soon go free. Beginning Saturday, teams will have six days to buy out players to make payrolls more cap-friendly.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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