The National Hockey League and the NHL Players' Association struck a tentative agreement early Sunday that may end a three-month lockout of unionized players, league and union officials announced.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the "basic framework" of a deal had been agreed upon after a 16-hour negotiating session at a Manhattan hotel. The details must be approved by both the players and the league's governing board, Bettman told reporters in a predawn news conference, and he said it was too early to provide details about what it might mean for a shortened hockey season.
But players' union chief Donald Fehr said he expected those steps to follow "fairly rapidly and with some dispatch."
"Hopefully, within a very few days, the fans can get back to watching people who are skating and not the two of us," Fehr said.
Sunday's deal could salvage the second half of the season and the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The NHL scrapped its preseason and all games through the end of 2012 after its contract with the players expired on September 15, with no agreement between the two sides. There were 526 games, nearly 43% of the season, scheduled from the start of the regular season on October 11 through December 30, the NHL said.
A similar labor dispute canceled the entire 2004-05 NHL season. Bettman has said any abbreviated regular season should probably have a minimum of 48 games per team.
Some players had a "crucial role in the final stages" of reaching the agreement, the union said. "Players in the room early Sunday for the announcement were: Craig Adams, Chris Campoli, Mathieu Darche, Shane Doan, Andrew Ference, Ron Hainsey, Jamal Mayers and George Parros," the players association said.
Sports Illustrated has tracked the intricacies of the talks and flashpoint issues, and argued that the NHL is "in dire need" of a new way of handling labor relations.
Initial reactions shared with CNN on social media were mixed.
"They waited too long. I think they're gonna take a well-deserved hit from hockey fans," HBobbie McLeod wrote on Facebook.
But some fans expressed excitement.
"Now time to see the LAKings raise their banner! #Finally," wrote Lisa, a self-described former hockey fan, on Twitter. But, she added, "after being a fan for 23 years through 4 lockouts, enough is enough."