Let the games begin -- finally.
The Florida Panthers are officially preparing for their shortened season after the National Hockey League Players' Association ratified a new collective bargaining agreement Saturday. The agreement ends the lockout that began September 15. The agreement came after a sometimes acrimonious process to retool the labor deal between the players' association and the league.
The NHL season will officially get underway Saturday, three months later than scheduled, the league announced on its website. Late that night, NHL teams also released their updated 48-game schedules.
The Panthers will open the season on Saturday, January 19 as they host their southeast division rivals, the Carolina Hurricanes. There are 32 men on this year’s training roster. Each will undergo medical and physical testing on Sunday.
On Monday, the Panthers will be back on the ice for their first official practice of the season. They have already held some unofficial time on the ice. Many of the players returned to South Florida after learning a tentative agreement had been reached to put an end to that months-long lockout.
During on-and-off negotiations, the NHL scrapped its preseason, all games through 2012 and threatened to scratch the entire season if a deal couldn't be reached.
But on January 6, the league and the players announced they'd struck a tentative agreement after a 16-hour negotiating session.
The league's board of governors approved the deal Wednesday, but it wasn't official until Saturday. Hours after the players ratified the agreement, leaders from the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding about the terms of the new 10-year labor deal.
Three games will open the truncated regular season at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday: Pittsburgh at Philadelphia, Ottawa at Winnipeg and Chicago at Los Angeles, the reigning Stanley Cup champion.
The season will be 48 games, down from the standard 82. The regular season ends April 27.
The last time the league had labor strife, the entire 2004-05 season was eliminated.