By IRA PODELL
AP Sports Writer
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 (MOU) on Saturday night that truly makes the lockout a thing of the past.
Training camps will open on Sunday, and a 48-game regular season will begin next Saturday. The signing of the MOU also paved the way for the NHL to release the long-awaited revised schedule.
Twenty-six of the 30 teams will play next Saturday. All games will be intraconference this season.
It took another lengthy negotiation to finally end the four-month lockout. The sides worked on the MOU 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 on Wednesday.
The NHL hoped to open camps on Sunday, and that prospect seemed in jeopardy Saturday until the document was signed at 10 p.m. EST.
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 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 gets under way.