The NHL appears headed toward a 48-game season for the second time in two decades.
"I think 48 is most likely at this point, unless the players can expedite their ratification process," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email Monday to The Associated Press.
The NHL shortened its 82-game slate to 48 games for the 1994-95 season after a 103-day lockout. A 301-day lockout in 2004-05 made the NHL the first major North American professional sports league to lose an entire season.
When the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement was agreed to Sunday morning — after 16 hours of negotiations — there was some talk of having a 50-game season start later this month.
The NHL and the players' association are working on a memorandum of understanding, which could be completed soon, then voted on by owners and players. The league has circulated a memo to teams telling them to be ready to play by Jan. 19, the date the shortened season is expected to start.
"As we prepare for the season opener, I want to apologize to all Blues fans, especially our season ticket holders, suite holders, and sponsors," St. Louis Blues owner Tom Stillman said in a statement released by the team. "We share in your disappointment and frustration about the lockout."
Los Angeles Kings forward Kevin Westgarth, who was part of the union negotiating team for much of the long work stoppage, expects the NHLPA to conduct a conference call to explain and answer questions about the new CBA before players vote on it online.
"Of course the league will say if the players hurry up, we can play more games, but there's a reality to consider as well," Westgarth said in a telephone interview Monday from Raleigh, N.C., where he skated informally with some Carolina Hurricanes. "But the first step is for the people who are good with words to get on paper what both sides agreed to.
"Then, we have to get guys — who are scattered all over the world — to understand the agreement before we can start voting."
Some NHL players — including Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin — went overseas during the lockout. Ovechkin, who played for his hometown Dynamo Moscow in the Kontinental Hockey League, was welcomed back to Washington by the Capitals, who posted a picture of him on their Twitter account arriving at a local airport.