NHL/NHLPA talks on CBA include escrow cap, salary deferral for players

Donald-Fehr,-left,-and-Gary-Bettman.-(Gene-J.-Puskar/AP)

Donald Fehr, left, and Gary Bettman. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

New York Rangers star (and Hart Trophy candidate) Artemi Panarin dropped a bomb on Thursday afternoon with a fiery social media post.

That begged the question: “What has him so upset?”

During a time of COVID-19 spikes, rising numbers of positive tests across all sports and the clock ticking closer to the scheduled July 10 opening of NHL camps, players will be soon voting on a CBA extension.

According to multiple sources, the potential agreement between the NHL and NHLPA caps escrow at 20 per cent for the 2020-21 season. Original guesstimates were escrow at 35 per cent if this year did not finish, 27-28 even if it did.

But there is a second layer: a one-season-only 10 per cent salary deferral by every player. I’m told this is not a rollback. Players will be returned that money in the future. The benefit to them is the escrow on it would be lower.

These are elements of a much more complicated puzzle. One source compared it to a “payment plan you might negotiate with your credit card company.” From an ownership perspective, every dollar owed the teams on the 50-50 revenue split will be repaid over the balance of the CBA.

As part of the agreement, the salary cap will be kept close to the current $81.5 million for the next three seasons. There is potential for it to go up $1 million in 2022-23.

Since it is a CBA, the NHLPA’s constitution mandates that every player gets a vote. It is expected, as The New York Post’s Larry Brooks reported Thursday, that Return to Play will be intertwined with the CBA, meaning players will be voting on both safety and financial protocols at the same time. A simple majority is enough for a “yes.”

It’s a big, big decision. There’s 700-plus players and I’d be lying if I told you I spoke to enough of them to know how they’re going to vote. The fact that many have returned from Europe or are making plans to do so is being taken as a positive sign.

But, over the past few weeks, there have been several emotional calls amongst NHLPA membership. It’s not easy, with so much unknown about the lasting effects of COVID-19. (The NHL and NHLPA are working on “opt-out” language for those who don’t want to play.) One team was leaning against returning until a passionate speech from one of its most respected players turned the tide. Several players (and some agents) have said they will never have more leverage than now, and should wield it.

Panarin’s in that camp, apparently.

Now, not every player feels that way, and many agents don’t either. His post was not met with universal approval, with several calling it “misguided.” They also don’t like the union showing public strife, because it shows weakness. What it does reveal is the conflicting feelings running through union membership.

“I would tell you that I probably wouldn’t be comfortable voting at this particular time,” Carey Price told Montreal reporters on Thursday. “There’s still a lot of questions that need to be answered…The NHL and the NHLPA are trying to make the best of a very difficult situation. So, moving forward – and I’d like to play – we have a lot of questions that need to be answered and a lot of scenarios that need to be covered before I vote yea or nay.”

In March, the NFLPA went through a very public battle before voting on its new CBA. Prominent stars like Aaron Rodgers, JJ Watt and Russell Wilson publicly declared “no.” Their side lost 1,019-959, extending the agreement to 2030. That’s razor-thin for such a vote.

Those who know more than I do think this will follow a similar pattern. We’ll find out over the next few days.

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