The NHL will enjoy labour peace for at least three more seasons.
That’s the biggest takeaway from Monday’s decision by the NHL Players’ Association not to trigger an early end to the current agreement.
It should also raise hopes that an even longer extension might be in the offing, although the league and players now have until Sept. 15, 2022 before this deal expires. The sides met regularly throughout the summer and then from Monday to Friday last week and are believed to be making progress towards a potential three-year extension that would run through 2025.
This is a welcome change for a league that has experienced three straight lockouts and saw the entire 2004-05 season shuttered before the salary cap was instituted. It’s come about because the owners feel they have a fair system where revenues are split 50-50 and the cap is tied to the overall growth of the business.
So while there are tweaks to be made, they are not rebuilding the foundation. There’s no reason to go to war.
"While players have concerns with the current CBA, we agree with the league that working together to address those concerns is the preferred course of action instead of terminating the agreement following this season," said NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr. "We have been having discussions with the league about an extension of the CBA and expect that those talks will continue."
The NHL had previously let its own deadline to re-open the CBA pass on Sept. 1.
Had the players decided to trigger a September 2020 end to the agreement, there was some fear that it might derail the positive bargaining that’s already happened. Now the work can continue without the semi-imminent threat of a deadline.
At issue is making changes designed to limit the amount of escrow deducted from player salaries. There has been some talk about keeping the salary cap ceiling flat for the next two years until the league renegotiates national U.S. television deals that could be worth as much as eight times what they bring in now.
That kind of windfall would have a positive impact on the cap long term.
The players are also seeking to have a defined calendar of international events, starting with a World Cup in February 2021. The decision not to re-open the CBA will likely pave the way for that event to return as deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Sportsnet last month that they had already tentatively agreed on holding the next one in-season, pending the outcome of their CBA talks.
"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."
For the first time since Gary Bettman was hired as commissioner more than a quarter century ago, there appears to be a spirit of cooperation in bargaining. That’s quite the development in itself.
Let’s hope it continues.