Is An Olympic Deal between NHL & NHLPA Still Possible?

by | Dec 18, 2016 | Soapbox

Can NHLPA director Donald Fehr (left) & NHL commissioner Gary Bettman lead the way in hammering out a new Olympic deal?

On Dec. 2, the NHL Players Association rejected an offer from the NHL that would extend the current collective bargaining agreement by three years to 2025 in exchange for Olympic participation in 2018 and 2022.

For months, there was talk the NHL team owners had soured on taking part in the Olympics. Shuttering the league schedule for two weeks, the International Olympic Committee’s unwillingness to pick up the players’ insurance and transportation costs and concern over potential injurywere among the main issues.

Not even the International Ice Hockey Federation’s willingness to pick up those insurance and transportation costs was suitable enticement for the NHL. Following the recent Board of Governors’ meetings, league commissioner Gary Bettman indicated the owners had a “negative sentiment” toward the Olympics.

As for the players, they remain keen to skate in the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea and the 2022 Games in Beijing, China. However, the high cost of escrow clawbacks from their salaries was a significant factor in their rejection of a CBA extension.

In all things related to NHL collective bargaining, however, just because a proposal from one side is rejected by the other doesn’t mean negotiations are over. Recent reports suggests the league and the PA aren’t done haggling over this issue. Media speculation suggests the league and PA could continue to discuss the Olympic issue.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman recently reported the league’s rejected proposal included more than Olympic participation. Two more World Cup of Hockey tournaments and two “Ryder Cup”-style tournaments (something like Team North America vs Europe) were also dangled before the players. The league is also interested in exhibition games in China involving NHL teams and some regular-season games in Europe. 

With the North America hockey market pretty much maxed out, the league seeks new revenue streams elsewhere. Europe is a solid hockey market, while China is largely untapped.

While the Olympics aren’t the big revenue raiser the NHL hoped for, staging league-controlled tournaments such as the World Cup of Hockey plus games by NHL teams in China and Europe should provide a boost to league coffers.

The higher the revenue, the higher the salary cap. That means more money going toward player salaries. It also means the escrow clawbacks aren’t as expensive. Should revenue exceed annual projections, the players get most or all of that escrow money back with interest at season’s end.

For the players to accept a three-year extension of the CBA to 2025, they probably prefer a cap on escrow payments. The league is unlikely to bend on that unless the players make concessions elsewhere.

The league is expected to reach a decision on Olympic participation by the end of January. As Friedman reminds us, NHL labor negotiations tend to go down to the wire before a decision is reached. Discussions could intensify in January, especially in the final weeks of the month.

Perhaps a compromise can be reached that guarantees Olympic participation – along with those other international tournaments and games – while sufficiently addressing the escrow issue to entice the players in agreeing to a CBA extension. 

We’ll find out for sure by the end of January 2017.



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