NHL lockout comes to an end

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NHL lockout comes to an end

Updated: 8:40 p.m. CT

After months' worth of drama, rhetoric, talking and not talking, the NHL and NHLPA have finally agreed to a deal that will salvage part of the 2012-13 season.

The two sides agreed to a tentative 10-year collective bargaining agreement, according to reports, ending a lockout that swallowed up much of the 2012-13 schedule. The deal, which was reached a little before 4 a.m. CT, came after a marathon negotiation session that went more than 16 hours in New York.

Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr spoke to the media briefly this morning.

"We've reached an agreement on framework of the CBA, the details of which need to be put to paper," Bettman told reporters. "We've got to dot a lot of 'Is' to cross a lot of 'Ts,' but basically the framework has been agreed upon. We have to go through ratification process. The board of governors and players will have to approve. We'e not in the position to give any information. Well be back to you very shortly, hopefully later today, with more information."

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, via text, was "really happy" that the lockout was finally over.

"A lot of credit goes to the players who were in the bargaining sessions and worked very hard to get a deal done," Toews said. "I'm excited to play hockey again, although it's bittersweet because a lot of damage was done to our game. As players we need to keep showing our fans we care. We might have a long road ahead of us there, but for now it's great to know well be back on the ice very soon."

RELATED: Range of emotions emerge as lockout comes to an end

Now its a matter of when training camp and the regular season will begin. Its most likely to be a 48-game regular-season, although its still possible to squeeze in 50. Many athletes who were playing with European teams are working to return home. Patrick Kane, who played the past few months for EHC Biel in Switzerland, is headed home according to agent Pat Brisson.

He's home tomorrow, Brisson said via email. He is very excited and looking forward to play.
"Hopefully, in a very few days, fans can get back to watching people who are skating and not the two of us.-- Donald Fehr, on the end of the NHL lockoutCSNPhillys Tim Panaccio, who was in New York for the negotiations, reported that the 2013-14 salary cap, will be 64.3 million. The league originally wanted it to be 60 million and wasnt budging on that for some time. The cap floor will be 44 million. For 2013-14, the Blackhawks currently have 57.2 million of cap payroll spent on 17 players.

The cap for the remainder of this season is 70.2 million. And players' maximum length of contracts is now reportedly seven years (eight if the player is re-signing with his current team).

One of the first people Bettman thanked was federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh, who was a key component in these negotiations down the stretch. Beckenbaugh, who had had several fruitless meetings with the two sides in the past, helped bridge the gap between the league and NHLPA this weekend. Beckenbaugh spent about 13 hours on Friday going between the two groups before they all got together on Saturdayearly Sunday.

Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service director George H. Cohen recognized Beckenbaugh in a statement early today.

"I want to recognize the extraordinary contribution that my colleague, Scot Beckenbaugh, Deputy Director for Mediation Services, made in providing assistance of the highest caliber to the parties throughout the most critical periods in the negotiations," Cohen said.

Said Beckenbaugh declined comment to reporters, other than to say, "I'm as famous as I want to be."

Dates for training campsregular-season starts have not yet been announced. And Fehr, standing with Bettman, probably echoed the sentiments of many with his closing statement to reporters.

"Hopefully, in a very few days, fans can get back to watching people who are skating and not the two of us," he said.

Bears face decisions on Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery and 2017 roster

Bears face decisions on Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery and 2017 roster

What we "knew" most about the 2016 Bears heading into the season is that, offensively, Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffery would be the straws that stirred the offensive drink. 

Thanks to injuries, suspension and a perfect storm that resulted in a 3-13 season, the straw had a hole in it, the team still couldn't collectively close out games and a fifth-round rookie (Jordan Howard) and a second-year undrafted free agent (Cam Meredith) turned into the greatest causes for optimism on that side of the ball. 

The news that the team is shopping Cutler is hardly news-bulletin worthy. We've written about Cutler Fatigue here and discussed it on CSN's BearsTalk Podcasts for some time now. A breakup has seemed inevitable after eight years of .500 ball when he's been behind center. The tricky part is finding an alternative that would be a marked improvement for a coaching staff that might need to finish .500 to continue on the job in 2018. Yet that's the gamble that must be taken for a franchise that almost needs to move on, for better or worse, in order to find a way out of the muddy ditch it's found itself in.

Cutler must first be deemed healthy enough after labrum surgery on his throwing shoulder - something similar to what Buffalo did with Tyron Taylor this week following groin surgery. But Taylor might be a safer bet to stay with the Bills than Cutler is here. Those medicals might be out there already around the league if shopping has truly begun. And while a new destination for Cutler might not earn him the same salary (roughly $15 million) he'd make here, the thinking here is he'd prefer a fresh start just as much as the Bears want one. 

So let's go shopping.

Cleveland? No. 

San Francisco as a stopgap starter? Maybe. There's tons of salary cap space while a successor is groomed, and there's the Shanahan (Kyle/Mike) Factor. But more losing. 

How about Jacksonville to push his young clone, Blake Bortles? Perhaps. There's still a loaded, talented young defense that has yet to reach a promising ceiling, and a couple of talented receivers. 

The Los Angeles Rams could provide a push for Jared Goff (though it's hard not to see Goff being the starter, for better or worse). But if something should happen, Cutler would be ready, with Todd Gurley, what should be a respectable defense and a location close to where wife Kristin Cavallari can return to actressing. 

Jay in Buffalo? Good one! 

Arizona has already shot down interest. 

We don't see Denver wanting him back as they await Paxton Lynch's maturity with Trevor Siemian as a bridge. 

Reuniting with Adam Gase in Miami could be an option with Ryan Tannehill's health still a mystery. 

Then there's always Houston. I'm looking for Tony Romo's ultimate destination impacting Jay's. 

But retiring, as some reports this week suggested? No. Despite the public perception, Jay is a competitor, and I truly believe that still runs through him. He may not get to prove his reputation wrong before he retires, but despite what body language experts feel, I believe he'd still like to prove something. But I'm also not counting on any team giving up a draft pick for him. Teams know the Bears will release him, but if a club lower on the waiver claim wire truly desires him, Ryan Pace has squeezed something out from teams for his players on the discard pile before.

As for Jeffery, all remains quiet on the franchise tag front. The seal remains tight at Halas Hall over whether there have been any negotiations this past week, and if so, whether they've moved in a positive, long-term direction. 

Two things to keep in mind: the Bears did not tag him last year until the day before the deadline to do so. That deadline this year is March 1. The other is the fact that other teams in similar situations (such as Washington with Kirk Cousins and Kansas City with Eric Berry and Dontari Poe) have yet to make moves either, as that deadline looms. If the Bears determine they'll cut ties with Cutler, Eddie Royal and Lamarr Houston, that will free up another $24 million in cap space on top of the $60 million-plus they have already. Perhaps that factors into the decision on Jeffery, who'd get paid $17 million in 2017 under a second straight franchise tag for a team that needs play-makers and a coaching staff that needs wins next season. Letting him go would require attention and a portion of those dollars to replace him in the draft and/or free agency.

We leave all our internet/talk radio caller GM's with this question: Would you REALLY want to be in Ryan Pace's shoes this offseason? Can you be as shrewd, wise and run the table to the extent he must, especially at the most important, franchise-shaping position (which, granted, he's put on the back-burner his first two years)? And "get it right" to build momentum moving forward for a franchise that's reached the playoffs just once in the past decade? The rebuild remains substantial. And so are the decisions he faces in a crucial offseason.

Cubs eager to see the Jason Heyward relaunch in Cactus League

Cubs eager to see the Jason Heyward relaunch in Cactus League

MESA, Ariz. — Cactus League stats are supposed to be irrelevant, especially for the guy with the biggest contract in franchise history. Jason Heyward already built up a reservoir of goodwill as a former All Star, three-time Gold Glove defender and World Series champion. The intangibles got Heyward $184 million guaranteed, and the Cubs are hoping a new comfort level will lead to a Jon Lester effect in Year 2 of that megadeal.

But Heyward will still be one of the most scrutinized players in Mesa after an offseason overhaul that tried to recapture the rhythm and timing he felt with the 2012 Braves (27 homers) and break some of the bad habits that had slowly crept into his high-maintenance left-handed swing.

"If there's ever any doubt," Heyward said, "then you probably shouldn't be here."

Heyward will be batting leadoff and starting in right field on Saturday afternoon when the Cubs open their exhibition schedule with a split-squad game against the A's at Sloan Park. If Heyward has anything to prove this spring, it's "probably to himself, not to us," general manager Jed Hoyer said, backing a player who does the little things so well and commands respect throughout the clubhouse.

"There's going to be growing pains with making adjustments," Hoyer said. "He'll probably have some good days and some bad days. But I think the most important thing is that he feels comfortable and uses these five weeks to lock in and get ready for the Cardinals."

The Cubs are betting on Heyward's age (27), track record (three seasons where he showed up in the National League MVP voting), understanding of the strike zone (.346 career on-base percentage) and willingness to break down his swing this winter at the team's Arizona complex.

At the same time, Heyward realizes "it's just the offseason" and "a never-ending process in baseball." There are no sweeping conclusions to be made when the opposing starting pitcher showers, talks to the media and leaves the stadium before the game ends.

"I'm not sitting here telling you: 'Oh, I know for sure what's going to happen,'" Heyward said. "I don't know how it's going to go. But I know I did a damn good job of preparing for it."

[MORE CUBS: No hard feelings: Cubs and Pedro Strop look to future with contract extension]

Manager Joe Maddon — who gave Heyward nearly 600 plate appearances to figure it out during the regular season (.631 OPS) before turning him into a part-time outfielder in the playoffs (5-for-48) — usually thinks batting practice is overrated or a waste of time. But at 6-foot-5 — and with so much riding on an offensive resurgence — Heyward is hard to miss.

"I can see it's a lot freer and the ball's coming off hotter," Maddon said. "But it's all about game. I'm really eager for him, because everybody just talks about all the work he's done all winter.

"Conversationally with him, I sense or feel like he feels good about it and that he's kind of at a nice peaceful moment with himself. So it will be really fun to watch."

A 103-win season, an American League-style lineup that scored 808 runs, a new appreciation for defensive metrics and a professional attitude helped provide cover for Heyward, who largely escaped the wrath of Cubs fans with little patience for big-ticket free agents.

"Baseball is a game that's going to humble you every day," Heyward said. "You're going to fail more times than you succeed, so it's all about how you handle it, as an individual and as a group. We handled it the best out of anyone last year as a team. And that's why we were able to win the World Series.

"There's always things you feel like you need to work on. You can ask guys who had the best years — there's always something they're trying to improve on and something they don't feel great about at a certain point in time during the year.

"I just happened to have a little bit more breaking down to do. A lot of things allowed me to just kind of pause (and) look forward and not really think about trying to compete and win a game. Let's just get some work done."