Seeking a “continued, sustained period of labor peace,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced on Friday that the league will not exercise its option to reopen the collective bargaining agreement that’s due to expire after the 2020-21 season.
The NHL had until Sept. 1 to decide whether to reopen the CBA, potentially ending its current term in September 2020. The NHL Players’ Association has until Sept. 15 to exercise its own option to reopen negotiations. There have been concerns that if either side opted out, it could lead to the third work stoppage in the league since 2004. The NHLPA released a statement on Friday saying they will continue to discuss the matter with the players as the Sept. 15 deadline approaches.
“Based on the current state of the game and the business of the game, the NHL believes it is essential to continue building upon the momentum we have created with our Players and, therefore, will not exercise its option to reopen the CBA,” Bettman said in a statement. “Rather, we are prepared to have the current CBA remain in effect for its full term — three more seasons through the conclusion of the 2021-22 season.”
The NHL’s owners have been pleased with the current CBA, which was ratified in January 2013. Revenue has grown steadily for the league, and with it the salary cap. Revised rules on contracts and the “cost certainty” of the cap system have produced a strong decade of growth for the league.
The NHL’s players have benefited from that CBA to a point. The escrow system, in which a percentage of a player’s salary is withheld every season to cover potential shortfalls on the part of the owners — with a portion refunded at the end of the season — is much reviled by the players.
“We’re paying so much on our checks every two weeks, it’s like astronomical,” New Jersey Devils left wing Taylor Hall told ESPN last season.
Another point of contention for the players: international play, and in particular Olympic participation. The Beijing Winter Games are set for 2022. The NHL infamously skipped the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, refusing to allow its players to represent their countries after failing to cut a deal with the International Olympic Committee.
Are these issues, and others, enough to compel the players to reopen the CBA now?
“Of course the players are not looking for a fight,” NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr told ESPN in January, “The players’ view is what it always has been. And what I expressed in the last go-around ad nauseam, is that from the players’ standpoint a work stoppage is the last resort you come to. You only do it when that’s a better option than the agreements that are on the table. That hasn’t been the management practice in a number of sports in the last 35 or 40 years. But hopefully this time will be different. We’ll see.”
The NHL has had a work stoppage during every period of collective bargaining under Bettman.
“In any CBA, the parties can always identify issues they are unhappy with and would like to see changed. This is certainly true from the League’s standpoint,” Bettman said in Friday’s statement. “However, our analysis makes clear that the benefits of continuing to operate under the terms of the current CBA — while working with the Players’ Association to address our respective concerns — far outweigh the disruptive consequences of terminating it following the upcoming season.
The union’s executive board is scheduled to meet in Chicago on Wednesday. The league and union have been meeting through the summer and those discussions are scheduled to continue. There are some ticking clocks ahead of the CBA’s expiration: the Olympics and the expiration of the NHL’s U.S. television contract, both in 2022.