Olympics a Stumbling Block in Future NHL CBA Talks?
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:
Bill Daly said he’s not worried NHL players will skip All-Star Game to protest Olympic decision. “I know there are some disappointed players who won’t get to participate in the Olympics, but for the most part from what I’ve seen they’ve turned the page.”
— Ken Campbell (@THNKenCampbell) December 29, 2017
Daly’s remarks prompted a quick, scathing response from NHL player agent Allan Walsh:
Bill Daly is delusional. NHL players remain furious at not being allowed to represent their countries at the Olympics. “Turned the page”? The NHL’s Olympics decision will have ramifications for years to come. https://t.co/4MTtoUHZKr
— Allan Walsh (@walsha) December 29, 2017
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.