NEW YORK – NHL hockey is finally back, and this time it’s official.
Nearly one week after a tentative labor deal was agreed to by the league and its players, the sides agreed to a required memorandum of understanding Saturday night that truly makes the lockout a thing of the past.
Training camps will open Sunday, and a 48-game regular season will begin next Saturday. The signing also paved the way for the NHL to release the revised schedule.
Twenty-six of the 30 teams will play on opening day. All games during the season will be played within the respective conferences.
In all, 720 games will be played over a 99-day regular season. There will be at least one game on each day of the season, which ends April 27. Again, 26 of 30 teams will play that day.
The playoffs will begin April 30. The latest the Stanley Cup finals will end is June 28.
Teams will play 18 games within their division: four games (two home and two away) against two of the teams in the division, five games (three home and two away) against another team in the division, and five games (two home and three away) against the remaining division opponent.
To complete the 720-game schedule, clubs will play three games against each of the 10 remaining non-division opponents in their conference.
Outside the division, a team will face five clubs twice at home and once away, and play once at home and twice on the road against the other five teams.
It took another lengthy negotiation to end the four-month lockout. The sides worked on the agreement all week, after a tentative deal was reached last Sunday morning — the 113th day of the lockout — and needed all day Saturday to finish it.
The announcement that the deal was signed came several hours after the union easily ratified the tentative agreement that was reached after an all-night, 16-hour bargaining session last weekend.
The more than 700 union members had a 36-hour window from Thursday night until Saturday morning to vote electronically. The NHL board of governors unanimously approved the deal Wednesday.
The NHL hoped to open camps Sunday, and that prospect seemed in jeopardy Saturday until the document was signed at 10 p.m.
The new deal is for 10 years, but either side can opt out of it after eight. The previous agreement was in effect for seven seasons.
While this negotiation was long, the sides were able to rescue at least part of the season. The NHL also played a 48-game campaign following a lockout in the 1994-95 season.
The 2004-05 season was completely canceled because of a lockout. This one forced the cancellation of 510 regular-season games, the Winter Classic and the All-Star game.
No preseason games will be played in the seven days before the regular season starts.
MAPLE LEAFS: Brian Burke wishes the Toronto Maple Leafs had won more games — and he’d seen his firing coming.
Three days after he was let go as president and general manager, Burke said he was surprised the release came just as the NHL resolved its lockout.
“There’s sometimes when you get fired and you see the vultures circling and you understand it’s coming,” Burke said. “You’re not sure when you’re going to drop dead in the desert, but it’s coming and you can see the vultures.
“This one here was like a two-by-four upside the head to me.”
Burke was fired after four years in Toronto and no playoff appearances.
“Obviously your job as the GM is to bring in players that win. We didn’t win,” he said. “I can stand here and say ‘Oh, they didn’t like my personality,’ but those all become pretexts and excuses later. If you win enough games, you can be as obnoxious as you want to be.”
He wished his successor, Dave Nonis, Coach Randy Carlye and the team good luck.
Burke, 57, will remain with the Leafs as a senior adviser consulting with Tom Anselmi, the president of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment.
He will not advise the Leafs about on-ice issues.