NEW YORK – NHL owners will vote Wednesday on the tentative labor agreement reached with the players' union.
If a majority approves, as expected, the NHL will move one step closer toward the official end of the long lockout that began Sept. 16.
As of Tuesday afternoon, a memorandum of understanding of the deal hadn't been completed, so the union has yet to schedule a vote for its more than 700 members. A majority of players also must approve the deal for hockey to return to the ice.
"We continue to document the agreement," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press in an email Tuesday.
If there are no snags, ratification could be finished by Saturday and training camps can open Sunday if approval is reached on both sides. A 48-game regular season would then be expected to begin on Jan. 19.
"(We) don't need a signed document to complete ratification process," Daly wrote, "but we do need a signed agreement to open camps. The goal is to get that done by Saturday so that we can open camps on Sunday."
The NHL has yet to release a new schedule. The regular season was supposed to begin on Oct. 11.
The deal was reached Sunday on the 113th day of the lockout and seemingly saved the season that was delayed for three months and cut nearly in half. It took a 16-hour final bargaining session in a New York hotel for the agreement to finally be completed at about 5 a.m.
The lockout led to the cancellation of at least 480 games. That brings the total of lost regular-season games to a minimum 2,178 during three lockouts under Commissioner Gary Bettman.
The damage is significant. Perhaps $1 billion in revenue could be lost this season, given about 40 percent of the regular-season schedule won't be played. Players will also lose a large part of their salaries, not to mention time lost in their careers.
Hockey's first labor dispute was an 11-day strike in 1992 that led to the postponement of 30 games. Bettman became the commissioner in February 1993. He presided over a 103-day lockout in 1994-95 that ended with a deal on Jan. 11, then a 301-day lockout in 2004-05 that made the NHL the only major North American professional sports league to lose an entire season. The NHL obtained a salary cap in the agreement that followed that dispute and now wanted more gains.
The NHL's revenue of $3.3 billion last season lagged well behind the NFL ($9 billion), Major League Baseball ($7.5 billion) and the NBA ($5 billion), and the deal will lower the hockey players' percentage from 57 to 50 — owners originally had proposed 46 percent.
This was the third lockout among the major U.S. sports in a period of just more than a year. A four-month NFL lockout ended in July 2011 with the loss of only one exhibition game, and an NBA lockout caused each team's schedule to be cut from 82 games to 66 last season.