After months of saying, "Just wake me up when it's over," hockey fans all over the continent got a welcomed rise-and-shine Sunday when the NHL lockout came to an end in the wee hours.
Finally, on the 113th day, and after 16 hours of marathon meetings in New York, where NHL and NHL Players' Association leaders put their bitter differences aside and locked themselves in a room, a deal in principle was struck on a new collective bargaining agreement just before 5 a.m.
The NHL is back in business.
At some point next week, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, who have been kept on ice since blowing the doors off the NHL and signing as a tag team with Minnesota last summer, finally will put on Wild sweaters for real.
"I don't know how long it's been since our last game -- eight months or something like that -- you're relieved, you're happy and excited all at the same time," goalie Niklas Backstrom said. "It feels almost like your first hockey game all over again."
Lawyers spent much of Sunday putting the framework of the deal in writing. Owners and players are hoping to ratify the contract on Wednesday.
Both sides are aiming for a 50-game intraconference schedule that would start sometime late next week. Training camps would start in the middle of this week. A second option would be a 48-game schedule beginning Jan. 19.
"We'll get back to what we used to call business as usual as fast as we can," NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr said at a joint news conference with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman at 5:45 a.m. Sunday. "Hopefully, within a very few days, the fans can get back to watching people who are skating, not the two of us."
"Absolutely," Bettman said.
Players were ecstatic when they awoke and discovered this roller coaster of a lockout was over.
"Finally! Awesome news, huh?" veteran Matt Cullen said. "It's been such a long deal, and it's been such a sad thing for the game, so to be able to put it behind and get a deal done and get back on the ice, I can't tell you how excited I am."
50-50 split in revenues
With a Jan. 11 deadline approaching that would have wiped out the second NHL season in eight years, the two sides agreed on a 10-year CBA with a mutual opt-out clause after eight years.
Some of the key changes include a 50-50 split in revenues (previously 57-43 in favor of the players), $200 million in revenue sharing, maximum contract lengths of seven years (eight if a team is re-signing its own player) and two amnesty buyouts per team that will help teams comply with a 2013-14 $64.3 million salary cap.
The Wild won't be adversely affected by the changes despite signing Parise and Suter to 13-year, $196 million contracts July 4. All terms of previous contracts are grandfathered in.
Teams can spend up to a prorated $70.2 million this season; the Wild is second-highest in the NHL at $68.8 million. As for next season's $64.3 million cap, the Wild currently has $50.5 million committed because the contracts of Backstrom, Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard expire.
Other changes in the CBA include suspensions of six games or more going to a neutral party for appeal and all 14 non-playoff teams having a shot at the No. 1 overall draft pick. NHL participation at the 2014 Olympics and realignment will be settled at a later date.
'It wasn't a smooth ride'
Federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh was being lauded across the hockey world for bringing the two sides together after a turbulent breakdown Thursday. Edmonton's Sam Gagner offered to buy him dinner at a future date; some suggested Beckenbaugh present the next Stanley Cup, not Bettman.
Tempers cooled Friday when Beckenbaugh spent 12 hours shuttling back and forth the 3 1/2 blocks between NHL headquarters and the NHLPA hotel. That continued Saturday morning until Beckenbaugh felt there was enough traction to reconnect the parties across the table.
"It wasn't a smooth ride," said Winnipeg Jets defenseman Ron Hainsey, a key fixture for the NHLPA throughout negotiations. "When it got to points where you didn't know what to do next -- it might upset the other side -- you could go to him, talk to him about it and there was a way to work your ideas through a third party who was able to really help the process."
The Wild immediately will launch a marketing campaign and "Welcome Back" fan programs as the team knows it will have to work to repair the damage and dismay among many fans.
Like all teams, the Wild is largely hamstrung until the schedule is released. Once that occurs, the Wild will redistribute tickets to season- and partial-plan ticket holders. Single-game tickets will go on sale this week.
"We are very excited about [Sunday's] news that a tentative agreement is in place," Wild Chief Operating Officer Matt Majka said in a statement. "Like our fans, we look forward to the final approval of the new collective bargaining agreement and seeing our team back on the ice.
"Further information will be provided as soon as we receive it from the NHL."