It took 113 days, but the NHL and the NHL Players' Association finally reached a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement on Sunday morning.
In the end, a deal was reached only after both sides were willing to provide concessions – something that they were only willing to do when both were backed against the wall with the prospect of another lost season at hand.
Although the owners were able to reach their ultimate goal of a 50/50 split in hockey-related revenue, the players were able to gain some smaller victories during the final set of negotiations.
According to TSN hockey analyst Mike Johnson, although the players won "some of the late battles" on issues related to contracts, the year two salary cap and a pension, "they lost the big war" in the end.
"There's only one number that really counts and that's the 50/50 because regardless of how you shuffle it around and what contract rights you keep or do not keep, you're only going to get 50 percent of the revenue," Johnson said. "So it doesn't matter for the players if they the team spent too much, too little, 50 percent will always be coming to the players, that's the big number."
TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie also weighed in saying that the last lockout should be considered before any quick judgments are made in terms of which side won or lost.
"We did last time and we were 100 percent wrong…After the last CBA was settled everybody said, 'the players got absolutely crushed, this is a mortifying deal for the NHL Players' Association,' McKenzie said. "Eight years later, the players would want to stay in the same CBA and would stay forever in it because they thought it was terrific. So you got to be careful in these snap judgments."
Speaking with Dave Hodge on Sunday morning, Sports Illustrated's Michael Farber and Sun Media's Steve Simmons didn't hesitate to claim victory for one side or the other.
Simmons said that although during the last lockout there was an overwhelming feeling that the owners were victorious, at the end of the day players' salaries continued to go up and eventually caused a second stoppage inside of 10 years.
"Players win, players always win, especially the guys who can play win," Simmons said. "They're back, they're getting paid well. The biggest factor…is that second year cap that they (the league) basically stood on, said we're not moving off this hill and Bill Daly was prepared to die on that hill. He didn't die on that hill, he's still alive and now hockey's alive."
According to Farber, the determining factor in finding a winner or loser was the key HRR number of 50 percent.
"Look globally. We've gone from 57 percent to 50 percent for players," Farber said. "We've gone from unlimited contracts, including back-diving contracts for players to variance and maximum of seven or eight years depending. So how can the players win when they limited in the length of their contract and when the gross HRR going to players is reduced from 57 to 50. So owners win."
Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Star also weighed in and agreed with Farber, but said the league's concessions in the final days of negotiations could be looked at as smaller victories for the players.
"The owners win in the macro sense, but in the micro sense there was no rational world in which the players could give up an entire season and then claim that they had won," Kelly said. "They had already lost, so this is a limited victory on their part within the last week."
Wrapping up the discussing, TSN's Dave Hodge said that unlike 2004-05, the players stuck together and did not concede as much as they had previously and that the owners' likely did not get as much as they had expected.
"The assumption is that there will be always cracks in the players groups before there will be cracks in the owners group. I think – not that the cracks were wide – but I think we may have seen the opposite here," Hodge said. "So maybe the players can claim that they won because they may not have given up as much as they might've or that the owners wanted."
Still, in the end, as NHL players get ready to return to the ice for their NHL clubs, the ultimate winners will be the fans, who finally get to see the return of NHL hockey after undeservingly being dragged through a lockout that tested their patience and loyalty.
That commitment will belatedly be rewarded in less than two weeks as the NHL will officially drop the puck on their 2013 regular season, in what will hopefully mark the beginning of a decade or more of uninterruped on-ice action.