Thursday, July 14, 2005

NHL: The deal is made! Pro hockey will return this season

The NHL owners and the players association have reached a deal that will allow hockey to resume in October 2005.

Official details have not yet been released, but it is being reported that players salaries will be hit hard.

To keep teams competitive -- and to keep owners making money -- there will be minimum and maximum salary caps. ESPN reported that the minimum will be between $22 million and $24.5 million, while the maximum will be between $37 million and $39.5 million. Also, all players' salaries will instantly be rolled back 24 percent.

However, the deal isn't all bad for the players. The league's minimum salary is said to be going from $175,000 to $400,000.

As for the draft, a rushed version will be held. The lottery reportedly will take place on July 21 and the actual draft will occur only nine days later.

The draft lottery is now set up where any team can get the first pick, which is huge with supposedly-sensational Sidney Crosby to be had for the winner. The system is set up where all teams start with three balls, then lose one for each playoff appearance over the last three years or if they have had a number one pick in the last four years. However, each team has to receive one ball. If you're counting at home, that means the Washington Capitals have their name in the drawing twice (no playoff appearances in the last three years, but they had last year's top pick).

The teams that have three balls in the lottery are the Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

A massive free agent signing period is also in store, as ESPN reported that over 400 players are currently unclaimed, with many teams currently holding less than 10 players under contract. The Capitals only have four.

There is also a lot of speculation about rule changes, including a return to tag-up offsides, a no-touch icing rule, further limitation on goalie pad sizes, nets moved further back toward the wall, removing the center red line and not allowing goalies to play the puck behind the net.

The overtime structure will change, eliminating ties from the NHL game. Regulation ties will go to a five minute four-on-four sudden death overtime, followed by a three minute three-on-three sudden death overtime. If there is still no winner, games will be decided by a shootout.

Supposedly, more teams will be added to the already-two-month-long NHL playoffs, with 10 teams from each conference getting in instead of eight. The bottom four teams in each conference would then play preliminary best-of-three series to knock the fields down to eight.

According to ESPN, the deal came on the 301st day of the lockout. The NHL was the first North American sports league to lose an entire season to a labor dispute.

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