THE CANADIAN PRESS
NEW YORK — The timeline for the start of a shortened NHL season remained up in the air one day after the league and NHL Players’ Association shook hands on a tentative deal to end the lockout.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Canadian Press on Monday morning that hope for a 50-game schedule had already faded as the sides continued to finalize the memorandum of understanding their constituents will each vote on later in the week.
As a result, the league is expected to return with a 48-game season starting Jan. 19, assuming there are no major hiccups before then.
"It depends on ratification timeline for PA, but it’s looking more and more like 48 games is going to be the only option," Daly said in an email.
The NHL’s Board of Governors is scheduled to gather in New York on Wednesday afternoon to hold a ratification vote. A schedule had yet to be formally laid out for the players to cast ballots, but it’s believed the NHLPA wants to give them time to review the document — meaning they likely won’t be able to wrap up a vote before Saturday.
Both sides need to get majority support to adopt the tentative deal they reached early Sunday morning following a marathon 16-hour negotiating session. Even after announcing the tentative agreement around 6 a.m., they went right back to work on the language of the new pension plan, which ended up being the final major hurdle for them to cross in negotiations.
A 50-game schedule held appeal for both sides, but the league figured it needed to start to start the season in the middle of next week to make it work. That simply won’t happen.
The NHL played a 48-game schedule following the 1994-95 lockout and that allowed for a balanced intraconference schedule for what was then a 26-team league.
It’s going to be a little more complicated this time around. The NHL is planning to have teams play three games against the 10 opponents within the same conference but outside their division. They will then have an unbalanced schedule against division rivals, with five games against two teams and four against the two others, according to a source.
On Sunday, the league has circulated a memo to teams telling them to be ready to play by Jan. 19. That is the date the shortened season is most likely to start.
The shortened schedule will force a number of changes to the NHL calendar. The league has proposed an April 5 trade deadline and July 5 opening to free agency, but the sides have yet to agree on that.
The scheduled June 28-29 entry draft at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., might also need to be pushed back.
Even though the ink had yet to run dry on the new CBA, teams started trying to make amends for the sport’s fourth work stoppage in 20 years. The Pittsburgh Penguins issued a statement from owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle in which they offered an apology to fans.
"There is nothing we can say to explain or excuse what has happened over the past four months," it read.