The NHL lockout is over after 113 days, and hockey will resume on a national stage in the United States and Canada in the next few weeks. Just when will the season begin, and what rules will govern that season when it does begin? Let's try to answer those questions and more.
When will I get to watch NHL hockey? And how many games will be played?
The league has reportedly discussed the possibility of both a 50-game season and a 48-game season, depending on how long it takes the new CBA to be ratified. A 50-game season would begin Jan. 15, according to reports, and a 48-game season would begin Jan. 19. And it certainly looks like they're leaning toward the 48-game schedule.
It's expected the full league schedule will be announced later in the week.
When do training camps begin?
We're still not exactly sure, but it's looking like camps will open over the weekend of Jan. 12-13. They'll be about a week long, which should be interesting for guys who haven't been playing for other leagues during the lockout.
What's the deal with preseason games?
Everybody hates the preseason. Goodbye, preseason. At least for this year.
Is there any offseason stuff to worry about before we get back on the ice?
Free agency will reopen at some point soon after the ratification of the new CBA, which is expected to come on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week. There are still restricted free agents who did not sign new deals with their clubs before the lockout began and there will be a big push. Trades could also happen.
What's the new salary cap? What about the new salary floor?
One of the most contentious debates of the collective bargaining process was over the salary cap in Year 2 of the new CBA, or the 2013-14 season. The league budged off its position of a $60 million cap in 2013-14 and the sides ultimately settled on a $64.3 million cap for that season. That's the same cap as the 2011-12 season. The cap floor in 2013-14 will be set at $44 million, and according to CapGeek, all teams are already there.
In the shortened 2012-13 (or just 2013, I guess) season, teams are allowed to spend up to $70.2 million.
What are the major changes?
* Contracts have a seven-year term limit. If a team is signing its own free agent, that number goes up to eight years, but we won't see the massive 10-plus year deals we've seen in the past -- including back this past summer. Contracts that already exist beyond this limit, however, still count.
* In an effort to eliminate "back-diving" or "front-loaded" contracts, salary on contracts cannot vary more than 35 percent year-to-year. No year of a contract can have a salary less than 50 percent of the highest year in that deal. Again, existing contracts are not affected here.
* Compliance buyouts! We'll get to that in a minute.
* Every single non-playoff team will have a shot at the No. 1 overall pick in the draft lottery. Previously, only the bottom five teams had a chance.
What's this whole compliance buyout thing about?
The new CBA will throw a bone to some of the big market clubs who will have trouble getting under the salary cap for the 2013-14 season, allowing teams to buy out up to two existing contracts beginning in the 2013 offseason. The option will also exist for clubs during the 2014 offseason.
* For players with big contracts who have struggled to live up to them, there will be the cloud of a potential buyout looming over their head during the shortened 2013 season. This is especially true in cities like Vancouver and Philadelphia, for example, where teams are close to the cap and will almost certainly need to utilize the buyout option.
* Players on long-term injured reserve, like Flyers' captain Chris Pronger, will not be eligible for buyout.
* Players who are bought out will become unrestricted free agents.
What's the deal with players who were in Europe? Will they be back this season?
Players playing in Europe -- or in any other league, for that matter -- will be back. Other leagues signed players primarily on a month-by-month basis, and nearly all contracts included out clauses that allowed NHL players out at any time. If a player doesn't return, he is in breach of his NHL contract.
Most players have already left their European clubs and returned to North America. Others will be back in time for the start of camp, but this is a funny little quirk of the lockout: Teams weren't allowed to talk to their players for the duration of the work stoppage, so once the deal is ratified and the lockout officially ends, the logistics of getting everybody to camp in time will be interesting. In some cases, teams don't even know where on their planet their players currently are, and they'll have to fix that pretty quickly.
Will there be a new schedule, or will they just pick up where the old schedule left off?
There will be a new schedule. It's impossible to simply pick up where the old schedule left off because of the imbalance -- some teams would play more games against their own division and own conference than others, which could impact the playoff picture. The new schedule will likely not include inter-conference games. It's expected to be announced on Jan. 9 or 10.
When is the 2013 trade deadline?
Still to be determined, but certainly later than normal. ESPN's Pierre LeBrun reported that the league is looking at a potential April 5 trading deadline, but that's not set in stone just yet.
Will there be a Winter Classic? I know it was canceled before, but will it be rescheduled?
What about the All-Star Game?
The All-Star Game is gone for 2013 even though the season is starting up before the originally scheduled Jan. 27 date for the game. It's hard to select a group of All-Stars when you've only played a few games. The city of Columbus is expected to lose big without the game, and there's no 2014 game planned due to the Winter Olympics.
(Speaking of, the new CBA does not include word on whether or not NHLers will be allowed to play in the 2014 Sochi games. This issue will be resolved between the league and union independent of the new CBA.)
It's expected the Blue Jackets will host the game in 2015.
How are the playoffs affected?
The playoffs will be the same as they ever were. They may start later and end later than usual -- that much we will find out when the schedule is announced -- but it's the same system for 2013. Four rounds, all best-of-seven. Your team probably won't win the Stanley Cup.
What kind of impact will this have on the minor leagues and other lower levels of hockey?
The AHL, in particular, saw a large influx of NHL talent. It's tough to quantify at this point exactly what that talent meant to the league, but at the very least, anecdotal evidence tells us that the lockout pushed a lot more attention down the ladder to the A. Much of that talent will make its way back to the NHL, and the media attention will find its way back to the NHL as well.
For AHL players who were pushed down into other leagues, however, the lockout means more jobs at higher levels. Expect a ton of movement at the lower levels of minor pro hockey, namely in the AHL and ECHL.
When [INSERT YOUR FAVORITE TEAM HERE] wins the Stanley Cup, will there be an asterisk next to their name?
The New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup in 1994-95, the last season shortened due to a work stoppage. No asterisk for them. The Miami Heat won the NBA title a year ago as part of a shortened season and nobody looks down upon them ... at least not because of the lockout. The winner of the Stanley Cup will be treated like any other, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief that this won't happen again.
How long is the new CBA? (or, for the pessimists among us, when is the next lockout?)
It's a 10-year CBA, but both sides have the option to opt-out after eight years. The deal will expire on Sept. 15, 2023, or Sept. 15, 2021, if the sides choose to exercise the opt-out option.
What were the major issues that caused this lockout?
You know, after four months, that's a pretty good question.
We know the issues that were fought over. The owners wanted the players to take a smaller share of hockey-related revenue, and in the new CBA, that happened. The players will get 50 percent of HRR in the new deal as opposed to the 57 percent they saw in the previous CBA. The owners also wanted major givebacks from the players on contracting rules, but aside from what we discussed above, contracting rules remain largely the same.
The players ultimately agreed to the change in revenue split, but they were concerned with some of the contractual givebacks and, more notably, how they would be "made whole" on existing despite the large drop in their share of league revenues. The league has agreed to give the players $300 million in "make whole" money outside of the system as a way to ease them into the new CBA.
Are they all solved?
The league still has issues. Revenue sharing among teams will be increased under the new CBA, but there are still teams that will struggle to be profitable. Lower player costs over the next 10 years will help those clubs, as will tighter rules limiting big market clubs from front-loading contracts. Competitive balance on the ice should improve as a result.
But if league revenues continue to rise sharply as they did under the last CBA -- and despite the four-month disruption in regular business, there's no true reason to think they will tank with a lucrative TV deal and sponsors who have stuck with the league through the lockout -- the salary cap/floor will continue to rise. Small market clubs may not be able to keep up.
Why did it take so long for an agreement to be reached?
We'll give you a billion dollars if you find an answer.*
How much money did the league lose as a result of the work stoppage?
It's hard to quantify it exactly, but think several hundred million dollars. Nearly a billion, probably. The Winter Classic was certainly the biggest loss. On the plus side, much of the league's revenue is made at the back end of the season. The playoffs will remain completely in tact and NBC's national television schedule in the United States, aside from the Winter Classic and the Black Friday "Thanksgiving Showdown," remains untouched.
What are the lingering impacts of the lockout?
That depends. You clicked on this, so you're still engaged with the NHL and with the game. How many others are like you?
If you still have questions that weren't answered above, drop 'em in the comments and we'll get you answers.
*That's a non-binding offer, Gary and Don