Olympics a Stumbling Block in Future NHL CBA Talks?

by | Jan 3, 2018 | Soapbox | 7 comments

Last April the NHL announced it would not participate in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. That decision didn’t sit well with the players.

Several notable stars, including Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews, New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, were quick to express their unhappiness. The NHL Players Association released a statement calling the league’s decision shortsighted, adding the players were “extremely disappointed” by the news.

Months later, that disappointment apparently hasn’t ebbed.

Asked about the possibility of some players skipping the 2018 NHL All-Star to protest the Olympics decision, here’s what NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Hockey New’s Ken Campbell:

 

Daly’s remarks prompted a quick, scathing response from NHL player agent Allan Walsh:

 

It’s not difficult to figure out what ramifications Walsh was referring to.

The current collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players expires in September 2022. However, each side has the choice of opting out in September 2019. That would bring the CBA to an end a year later, raising the specter of yet another lengthy labor dispute between the two sides. 

While there’s no word from NHL headquarters indicating they intend to take an early out, the players certainly could. For some time, they’ve been unhappy over escrow clawbacks from their paychecks. The league’s Olympics decision could only harden the players’ resolve to kickstart new CBA talks.

The Winter Olympics could become a bargaining chip in the next round of collective bargaining. Last fall, league commissioner Gary Bettman proposed extending the current CBA by three years in exchange for Olympic participation plus further international league-sanctioned tournaments, such as the World Cup of Hockey. The PA rejected it on the grounds that it was a “take it or leave it” proposal with no room for further negotiation.

Just how badly do the players want to take part in future Olympics? Are they furious enough to make participation in the Games a significant issue in CBA discussions? To coin a phrase from Daly during the last round of negotiations, is it a hill they willing to die on?

Many team owners apparently have no stomach for future Olympic participation. However, the league’s desire for a bigger footprint in China’s growing hockey market could see the board of governors agree to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Of course, that’s provided the International Olympic Committee can forgive the league’s decision to bypass the Pyeongchang Games.

Should Calgary win the bidding for the 2026 Games, NHL team owners will likely toe the line if Bettman and his crew want to take part in another Winter Olympics staged in a North American market.

Bettman could also use future Olympic participation as a bargaining chip to to squeeze the players for concessions in the next round of CBA talks. He could attempt to minimize a reduction in escrow clawbacks, or perhaps try to reduce the players’ share of hockey-related revenue from its current 50-50 split.

That’s where the players’ desire to represent their countries in the Olympics will be sorely tested. It’s one thing to be hot to trot to represent your country on the world’s biggest sports stage. It’s another when it could affect their share of the NHL revenue pie.

 








7 Comments

  1. The league has only hurt itself with this decision. Why take your best players off the biggest stage in the world when you’re trying to grow your brand? I won’t guess at what the ramifications will be, but I know one thing. Deciding to not participate in the Olympics will come back to bite the league in the butt.

    • If there was clear value to “growing the brand” the NHL would be playing. Yeah, it was fun to watch for hockey fans, but did anybody but hockey fans notice? The junior leagues release players for the world cup, but that doesn’t look like an option in any universe where there is a competitive NHL & points matter. The compressed schedule & loss of games in the leagues prime time was not fun last time. And the Olympic folks are interested in promoting the Olympics, and are actively hostile to the NHL. About 100 players (out of 600 so a decent fraction) would go. Is that the group you want the negotiators to bend for? I’m sure the league and the players and the IIHF can figure out a way to give the players a high-profile chance to wear their national colors in a tournament setting — maybe even a compressed format during the season — name a hundred players to national all star teams and hold your tournament during an all star break week — make it four on four and allow countries that wish to bring in non-NHL players. 4-4 makes the pick-up games we’ll see more appropriate — and it’ll be fun for everybody but the goalies. If the Olympics buys into the format you can play the tourney there during Olympic years but with he same 7 days window. Note- normal rosters with 4-4 makes back to backs less of an issue. The old Olympic train has left the station – we watched the amateurs, we watched the dream team, we’ll ignore the bunch playing this year.

  2. I could care a care a less about the Olympics or what players like.

    The taint of the games makes them their own problem. Corruption & doping make a mockery of it all. Toews OV etc opinions mean nothing.

    IMO the CBA is about the NHL & the NHLPA working together to make strides against competing sports eg the NBA. Nothing to do with the IIHF or IOC matters to me. Losing players to injury or condensed schedules only hurts the NHL & its fans.

  3. What percentage of nhl players would actually play in the games? 5%? If the union chooses to make this an issue and give in elsewhere then they arnt doing the job of representing the players as a whole instead of a select elite sub group.

  4. One all star game will hurt the NHL very little . If I was the top players I would boycott the next world cup . That would hit the owners hard .

  5. Lyle, I think you’re seeing it as a bigger issue than it really is…
    Olympic hockey is not that interesting to most people.
    I sure as hell won’t get up early or stay up late to watch it… I haven’t heard a single person complain about the NHL’s decision outside of the media.
    So why all the fuss? Even Ovi’s quieted down about it, oh wait…

  6. I doubt MLB would shut down for 2 weeks so their players could represent their countries. So why should the NHL?
    It’s not up to the NHL to grow the game of hockey internationally. That should be totally up to the IIHF and the IOC. The NHL should only have to worry about growing the game of hockey in North America, more specifically the sunbelt of the United States. As it is, the NHL is already promoting their game internationally by sending teams to Europe for league games and playing an exhibition game in China.
    Shutting the league down for 2 weeks does not benefit the NHL in any way. Star players face possible injury and injuries deprive fans in league cities of their star players.
    I’m sure Ovie, McDavid and Matthews etc. would gladly represent their countries and try to win gold. But unless the only benefits for the Olympics goes to the IOC, it shouldn’t rely on the NHL to allow the players to participate.

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