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The NHL collective bargaining agreement is the basic contract between the National Hockey League (NHL) team owners and the NHL Players Association (NHLPA), designed to be arrived at through the typical labour-management negotiations of collective bargaining. The most recent agreement, tentatively reached on July 13, 2005 after a 2004-05 NHL lockout which caused the cancellation of the 2004-05 season, was ratified by the NHLPA membership on July 21 and by the league's Board of Governors on July 22.
The previous agreement was signed in 1995 following a lockout which shortened the 1994-95 NHL season to 48 games, a loss of 36 games from what had originally been an 84-game schedule. None of the games scheduled for the 1994 segment of the season were ever played, the lockout lasting until after the beginning of 1995. The collective bargaining agreement was initially to last for six seasons and be open to re-negotiation in 1998, but was eventually extended to last until September 15, 2004 (one day after the World Cup of Hockey final in Toronto).
On the expiration date of the old agreement, the NHL Board of Governors, representing ownership, met and unanimously decided that the 2004-05 NHL season would be delayed until a new collective bargaining agreement was in place. The owners' lockout of players began at 12:01 a.m. on September 16, 2004, the day most NHL training camps would have opened had the NHLPA and the NHL come to an agreement. By November 2004 it became apparent that the entire 2004-05 season was in jeopardy and supposedly "last-ditch" efforts were undertaken to avoid this, but little, if any, progress was seen during the last few months of 2004. The general consensus of many sportswriters and other knowledgeable observers was that if the entire 2004-05 season were cancelled, which indeed happened, that the owners would attempt to open training camps in September 2005 for the 2005-06 NHL season using "replacement players" who are not members of the NHLPA and those willing to resign from it.
On February 13, 2005, the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service called a meeting between the two sides to negotiate a new deal. Three days later, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman officially cancelled the season. There was briefly hope that a season could still have been salvaged, as hockey legends Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, both now part-owners of NHL teams, brought the owners and players together for talks on February 19. However, the talks failed to bring the two sides to an agreement.
Once the possibility of losing a second season to the dispute became real and the two sides realised that the dispute had alienated a large portion of the league's fan base, the league and the NHLPA resumed negotiations again in June 2005. Many pundits thought that the two sides wished to come to an agreement in early July, to coincide with the Canada Day (July 1) and United States Independence Day (July 4) holiday season. While July 4 passed without an agreement, momentum for a settlement was clearly building, with the two sides meeting daily between July 5 and July 13. Reportedly, the July 12 session lasted until 6 a.m. local time on July 13, at which time talks recessed for five hours. The sides announced their tentative agreement at 12:30 p.m. North American Eastern Standard Time (1630 UTC) on the 13th. This day was aimed for, because it was the day before the Baseball All Star Game, so no other sporting event in North America was taking place.
The most important provision of the new collective bargaining agreement is an overall salary cap for all NHL teams, tied to league revenues. The agreement also phases in a reduced age for free agency, which will eventually give players unrestricted rights to negotiate with any team at age 27 or after 7 years of play in the NHL, whichever comes first.
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