TORONTO – NHL players overwhelmingly approved a labor deal with the league Thursday, virtually ending the lockout that canceled last season.
"We look forward to starting fresh with this new agreement," union head Bob Goodenow (search) said. "We're fully committed to the new deal and we anticipate great success for the game as we go forward."
"Almost 90 percent of the players" voted in favor of the six-year deal that includes a salary cap, Goodenow said at a news conference.
The league's board of governors will hold a ratification vote Friday during a meeting in New York, but that ballot is really just a formality. After that, the NHL (search) will be back in business.
"I am optimistic that we will bring this promptly to a successful conclusion so that we can go together and get this game — and the attention on this game — back where it belongs, on the ice," commissioner Gary Bettman (search) said.
Many players are unhappy that a full season was lost and the union ended up accepting a salary cap anyway. They came to Toronto to find out why, and look forward.
"It's not the deal we once had when we were collecting 75 percent of revenues nor is it the deal we set out to have, but I think it's going to work," New Jersey's John Madden said before the vote. "I think our game will grow.
"With the competition committee and everybody else putting their minds into making the game into something the fans can come to the rink and enjoy, I think it'll grow and that means the cap will grow."
Bettman was sent out by the owners to get "cost certainty" — a hard salary cap tied to league revenues — and he has it.
Under the new deal, players are guaranteed to receive 54 percent of league-wide revenues. A portion of every player's salary will be held in escrow until the end of the season when the new cap number is calculated.
All players that had existing contracts after last season, will have those deals cut by 24 percent.
A six-day window will begin Saturday, allowing teams to buy out signed players and not have those dollars count against their cap for next season.
Once the deal passes, there will be no remaining obstacles in this labor disagreement. The lockout will end soon after, and hockey talk will go back to which team is best instead of who came out ahead at the negotiating table.
With salaries and revenues directly linked, players and owners will need to be partners now more than ever to grow the game.