‘Cautiously optimistic’ NHL CBA talks could result in 2021 World Cup

NHL hockey commissioner Gary Bettman, right, and deputy commissioner Bill Daly. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

STOCKHOLM — Deputy commissioner Bill Daly says he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the direction of collective bargaining talks with the NHL Players’ Association and believes the sides are committed to staging the next World Cup in February 2021 if they can extend or renew the current agreement before it expires.

The league and players have met regularly throughout the summer and are due to sit down together again next week. The discussions are being held with each side facing a decision inside the next month about whether to trigger an early termination to the current CBA.

However, it remains to be seen if either will pursue the reopener option at a time when there appears to be much more labour harmony than strife.

“The general state of things, there seems to be a lot of agreement on,” Daly told Sportsnet during the NHL’s European player media tour. “It’s very kind of amorphous right now but there doesn’t seem to be like a huge sticking point on the issues we’ve talked about. I think there’s general agreement kind of directionally. Where we should be going.

“I think both sides have been open that the agreement’s not a perfect agreement and could be improved, but nobody’s holding out for a home run.”

The NHL has until Sept. 1 to trigger a 2020 end date for the CBA. Should it elect not to, the NHLPA would have until Sept. 15 to do the same thing.

If neither exercises its right for early termination, the current deal would run through September 2022.

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Daly says the NHL has a “pretty good sense” of what decision it will make on the reopener, but still needs to “dot our I’s and cross our T’s on that process with the appropriate people on the board.” Donald Fehr, the NHLPA’s executive director, said Friday morning that he won’t ask the players to make a decision until they get closer to the deadline.

It’s a deadline Fehr labelled “artificial” because there would still be a year remaining on the CBA if either side triggered early termination. No matter what happens, there will be time to continue negotiations and work towards a resolution.

The NHLPA boss is currently holding a series of meetings throughout Europe to update players on the process. While he agreed that talks with the NHL have been free of acrimony, he cautioned against reading too much into the emotions or mood around the early stages of the negotiation.

“Where we are at the moment it’s really hard to make predictions,” said Fehr.

According to Daly, the recent discussions have left open the possibility for four different avenues the league and players might pursue to see business continue without interruption.

“One would be kind of an extension on the reopener,” he said. “One would be some type of extension on the termination date. One could be an agreement to go to the end of the 10-year term as it is and another could be adding years on to the existing 10-year agreement.”

“All are possibilities.”

In addition to the CBA discussions, the NHL and NHLPA would love to establish a long-term calendar for international events. While the issue of Olympic participation still looms as a significant sticking point, the sides would like to replace the 2021 all-star game with an in-season World Cup if they can navigate the next stage of labour talks peacefully.

“It would be kind of a mini tournament about a week in length. Tack on a couple days to the typical all-star break and fit in an international event,” said Daly. “So that’s something I think we have an agreement that if we get past this phase we should work on.”

There is still much to hammer out before that potentially becomes reality, but at least the sides are talking regularly.

And getting along.

“There’s been no angry words at all in the process,” said Daly. “There have been active players at every meeting and I think the dialogue’s been really good. Positive.”

“The conversations have been direct but they’ve been pleasant,” added Fehr. “There’s no antagonism.”

That in itself is notable for a league that has had three lockouts and a strike since 1992. Daly believes there’s more “fundamental agreement” this time around because the NHL’s salary cap system now sees owners and players split revenues 50-50.

“Clearly the last two negotiations we needed something and we needed something material,” said Daly. “We needed an entire change to the system in ‘04 and ‘05 and we needed to change our share of the system in ‘12-’13. Now we’re in a position where we think the agreement fundamentally is working pretty well.

“There’s some tweaks that could make it work better from our perspective and the clubs’ perspective, but there are tweaks that could work better from [the players’] perspective.”

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