NHL CBA Update – Feb. 3, 2019

by | Feb 3, 2019 | Soapbox | 6 comments

The joint decision by the NHL and NHL Players Association not to stage a World Cup of Hockey in September 2020 hasn’t dampened the notion of the two sides avoiding another lockout.

During the recent All-Star break, league commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA representative Mathieu Schneider seemed to be singing from the same songbook regarding their labor relations. Bettman once again said he wasn’t looking for a fight with the players while Schneider remarked on the absence of tensions between the two sides.

In a recent interview with ESPN.com, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said the players weren’t seeking a confrontation with the owners. He also reminded us, however, that discussions regarding a new collective bargaining agreement remain in the preliminary stages.

NHL fans and those of us who cover the league for a living feel cautiously optimistic over the warmer tone between the league and the PA. After experiencing a player strike and three lockouts since 1992, another labor war is something everyone, including the league and PA, seem keen to avoid.

That being said, and as more than one pundit has observed, there’s plenty of time for things to go off the rails.

This summer should provide the earliest indication of whether another work stoppage can be avoided. In September, each side gets an opportunity to opt-out of the current CBA, with the league getting first crack on September 1 and the PA on Sept. 19. If one or the other chooses the early out, the CBA will expire on Sept. 15, 2020.

Labor uncertainty will generate an inevitable cloud of dread hanging over next season that both sides undoubtedly prefer to avoid. If they’re unable to reach an agreement on a new deal by this September, they could decide to kick the can down the road to September 2022, when the current agreement will officially terminate, using that time to continue working toward a new deal. 

The two sides could also reach an agreement before this fall, perhaps leading toward its implementant next September.

Most pundits feel the issues facing both sides this time around aren’t as contentions as in the past, certainly not worth another work stoppage. Still, they have the potential to increase tensions as discussions intensify.

The Athletic’s Katie Strang (subscription required) believes the players could be seeking gains this time around after making significant concessions during the last two lockouts.

Escrow, of course, is the main issue for the players but it won’t be easy to remedy. Last November, the New York Post’s Larry Brooks noted one way could be to remove long-term injury reserve from counting against the cap, but that would affect the current 50-50 split between the two sides.

Strang also reported the players could seek improved health care for current and former players, or ask the league to perhaps contribute a portion of hockey-related revenue toward the players’ pension fund. Olympic participation could also be on the players’ agenda.

The biggest factor, of course, is the distribution of hockey-related revenue. If either side attempts to shift the current split in their own favor, Strang believes the gloves will be off.

As long as the two sides maintain their current 50-50 split of HRR and if a method can be found to reduce the bite of escrow from players’ salaries, everything else could fall into place within a reasonable period.

Those negotiations, however, probably won’t get serious until this summer. That’s when we’ll know for certain if all these reports of potential labor peace will come to fruition.


  1. I can think of three reasons the owners will want a lockout:

    1. Contract lengths and bringing them down further.

    2. 21-22 year old players who sniff a point a game pace coming off their ELD and demand $10 million a season (call if the Eichel effect) – the owners will want a tighter ceiling on RFA max salaries.

    3. Massive July 1st bonuses and small actual “salary” contract structures like the Tavares deal – smaller/budget teams just can’t compete with this strategy. The owners will likely push for a 40-50% max bonus to salary ratio.

    • It still amazes me that wording changes are still necessary in order to keep these Owners and GMs from signing unnecessary and sometimes ridiculous contracts.
      Keep locking the players out every few years because they found a way to harm themselves financially.
      A firm union pay structure where there is no need for singular and independent negotiations other than what is required for the whole union body is what, 2 or 3 lockouts away?
      I think it’s the absolute heights of absurdity.

    • So you’re saying GMs will want to protect themselves from their own ridiculous decisions? Because every single thing you just pointed out is pretty much gms self destructing tendencies.

      1 contract length… who ultimately makes those decisions?

      2. RFA’s getting ridiculous deals…. see #1

      Massive bonuses…. who makes those deals? See #1 and #2

      • Exactly.
        Then find a way to make new, creative, poor decisions with whatever loopholes the player agents expose.
        Rinse and repeat.

      • Exactly right, N4l. That’s why we have the salary cap. GMs and owners tried to buy a cup, failed and then forced the players to sign agreements against their interests – hockey’s version of “stop me before I kill again”. Now we have teams that can’t afford to pay their best players and teams that can’t improve because they are up against the cap.

  2. Every single NHL lockout is about owners and management protecting themselves from their own stupid mistakes. I thought that was well established by now.