Will the NHL & NHLPA Extend the CBA for Olympic Participation?
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman surprised the hockey world last week with his proposal to the NHLPA offering participation in the 2018 and 2022 Winter Olympics. In exchange, the players must agree to a three-year extension of the collective bargaining agreement.
The CBA is scheduled to expire on Sep. 15, 2022. However, the league or the PA can trigger an early opt-out in Sep. 2019. Should one or the other take the early out, the CBA will expire the following September.
If the PA membership approves this proposal, it would be a win-win for NHL fans. They’d see their favorite stars take part in the next two Winter Olympics. Pushing ahead the CBA expiration date by three years also means the opt-out dates get moved forward to Sept. 2022. That spells labor peace until 2023 at the earlier and 2025 at the latest.
It would also be a big win for those of us who cover the NHL for a living, especially freelancers like me. I’ll be overjoyed if this CBA is extended to 2025, as it gives me extra time to replenish my lockout fund.
As with everything regarding the NHL CBA, however, nothing is as easy as it seems.
The Toronto Sun‘s Mike Zeisberger reminds us that this proposal is “classic Bettman”, another shrewd move by the league commissioner who always has something up his sleeve. By accepting the CBA extension, the players will be locked into the current escrow claw-back formula.
A percentage of escrow is withheld quarterly from the players’ salaries. That percentage often varies depending upon revenue projections. Should league revenue exceed expectations by season’s end, the players get that money back with interest. Otherwise, that money goes to the owners.
Bettman knows the players are keen to take part in the Winter Olympics. Those who aren’t selected to play for their countries enjoy a mid-season vacation during the league’s two-week Olympic break.
He also knows the team owners no longer fancy shuttering operations for the Olympics. However, an opportunity to ensure labor peace for three more years, with the current escrow formula remaining in place over that period, is something they’re apparently willing to accept.
Early speculation suggests the players aren’t thrilled about that possibility. They hate the current escrow system and reportedly want to cap it in the next round of collective bargaining.
Bettman’s proposal clearly favors the league. If the players accept his proposal, Olympic participation is guaranteed and fans won’t have to worry about another potential labor dispute for perhaps eight more years. If it is rejected, the players get painted as the bad guys for placing their own interests over “the good of the game.”
PA executive director Donald Fehr, however, is also a savvy negotiator. With the support of the players, he could make a counteroffer in which the PA accepts a CBA extension for Olympic participation, provided escrow payments are capped at 8-10 percent over the remainder of the agreement. Under that scenario, the players appear willing to compromise, putting pressure upon Bettman and the owners to accept it for (say it with me) “the good of the game.”
It’s expected the PA will provide its answer before the NHL Board of Governors meeting on Dec. 8. It’ll be interesting to see what Fehr and the players come back with, and what the league’s response will be.