NHLPA executive director discusses process of CBA opt-out


National Hockey League Players’ Association executive director Donald Fehr. (Richard Drew/AP)

The 2017-18 NHL season brought a ton of great stories, from the redemption MVP year of Taylor Hall, to the improbable success of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights and beyond.

At this time of year most fan bases are optimistic next season will bring success and that rookies will make a strong leap into the league. There’s little negativity in the summer months.

So we apologize for this story on a looming CBA deadline.

Though the current NHL-NHLPA agreement runs 10 years, both sides have an opportunity to opt out early a little more than a year from now. Given the league’s recent history of work stoppages, it’s a frustrating reality for fans who face the possibility of another one.

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr joined The Starting Lineup on Vancouver’s Sportsnet 650 Wednesday morning and was asked if he and the players were leaning one way or the other.

“I don’t think anybody knows yet,” Fehr said. “The way it works is that contract runs 10 years, but either party can choose to end it after eight and the mechanism for that is a notice that you send to the other side in September of 2019. If either side sends that notice the contract will end, but not until September 2020 and that’s two more full seasons from now.”

It’s not yet clear what the hot-button issues may end up being, but there are a few that both sides could potentially dig their heels in on. For instance, players were disappointed — even angry — to not be included in the 2018 Olympics, which is currently not written in the CBA. Even if the NHL is interested in taking a two-week break to participate in the Beijing Olympics in 2022, the league may want a concession from the players to put it back in. The PA also is no fan of escrow, payments held back to ensure a level 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues, though Fehr acknowledged those payments dipped this season.

There is much for both sides to consider before deciding on the CBA’s future, but those discussions have begun behind closed doors.

“The notion that players would have already determined what they wanted to do is simply wrong,” Fehr said. “Obviously we’ve started talking to guys about it, we’ve talked about the issues. You describe the economic circumstances, you talk about what might be possible and, far more importantly than that, you ask them how they feel and what if anything they would like to change and to what degree.

“We’ve begun those discussions last year, but the real critical internal discussions will take place over the course of the upcoming season. The target date for when you make a decision about what to do in September 2019 is not until at least a year from now.”

Donald Fehr on cap system, Olympics, CBA, and more!
July 11 2018


Fehr was asked about how the PA views players leaving money on the table to sign in a certain destination. Steven Stamkos, for instance, likely could have gotten more had he fully tested the UFA market in 2016. Even John Tavares may have left money on the table to instead sign a seven-year $77-million deal in Toronto.

Does the PA have an opinion on these cases when players don’t max out their earnings?

“I have a very simple philosophy about this. You have individual contracting so that players can make individual decisions and they can weigh and balance all the things that might matter. Where they want to live, where their family wants to live, what the tax structure might be, what the other opportunities might be, whether they have family around or not, whether they like snow in the winter or whether they want to play in Phoenix.

“And they also have to make decisions as to, given where they’d like to play, what’s a deal that’s appropriate to get them there. And I don’t second-guess players when they do that, that’s the purpose of individual negotiating.”

Senior Writer Ryan Dixon and NHL Editor Rory Boylen always give it 110%, but never rely on clichés when it comes to podcasting. Instead, they use a mix of facts, fun and a varied group of hockey voices to cover Canada’s most beloved game.


When the 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame class was recently announced it was revealed NHL commissioner Gary Bettman would be inducted as a builder. Fehr has no problem with that decision, but pointed out that on the business side of sport one very important sector (and individual in particular) has been overlooked in these honours.

“You talk about Halls of Fame, what is interesting is that in baseball and in hockey, people that work for the union are sort of kept off to the side. And one of the great tragedies I think and one of the great insults is that Marvin Miller is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“My view is pretty simply the three people that had the most impact on Major League Baseball in the 20th Century were Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Marvin Miller and Marvin Miller dominated the last half of the 20th Century. I think I did a pretty good job following him for 20-odd years but I was following him, I didn’t create that world. And the same is true here.

My judgment is pretty simple: I don’t question that people are inducted, I wish them well, I offer my congratulations.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.