The National Hockey League and players have reached agreement on a "framework" of a deal to end their lockout and salvage the season, the NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced yesterday.
The announcement came after a marathon 16-hour negotiating session that included both Bettman and the NHL Players' Association chief Don Fehr which started on Saturday and spilt over into yesterday.
"Don Fehr and I are here to tell you that we have reached an agreement on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement, the details of which need to be put to paper," Bettman said.
"We have to dot a lot of i's and cross a lot of t's. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the basic framework has been agreed upon.
"We have to go through a ratification process and the Board of Governors has to approve it from the league side and, obviously, the players have to approve it as well."
The NHL has locked out its players since the expiration of the previous collective bargaining agreement four months ago, forcing the cancellation of more than half the regular season.
With a deal, the NHL can avoid losing an entire season, as was the case in 2004/05 when the whole campaign was cancelled because of a similar bitter battle over financial issues.
Bettman had pinpointed January 19 as the essential start date to save a shortened season.
But with a written agreement still to be drafted, he said he could not yet offer information about a schedule for how many games would be played.
"We will be back to you very shortly, hopefully, later today with more information in that regard," he said.
The league has cancelled 625 games - up to January 14 - just over half the planned schedule that was to have started in October.