NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – December 3, 2020

by | Dec 3, 2020 | News, NHL | 15 comments

League commissioner Gary Bettman talks about efforts to start the 2020-21 season, a look at how the league could change coming out of the pandemic, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

SPORTSNET: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the league’s target date of Jan. 1 to open the 2020-21 season remains a “work in progress influenced largely by what we’re hearing from the medical experts.” He made the remarks at the Sports Business Journal’s “Dealmakers in Sport” panel on Wednesday.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (NHL.com).

Bettman insisted the NHL remains focused on health and safety, adding the league is taking its time evaluating ways to move forward with the season. He’s hopeful a widespread vaccine distribution will enable the league to return to normal for 2021-22.

The commissioner also addressed the recent stalemate with the NHLPA over the league’s request for increased escrow and salary deferral rates that have stalled return-to-play negotiations. He doesn’t view it as renegotiating the CBA extension but merely addressing how the division of hockey-related revenue will be affected by the pandemic.

Chris Johnston reports Bettman said there’s been no ultimatum made to the NHLPA, claiming it’s unfair to characterize his discussions with the union as a renegotiation. “We made a number of assumptions collectively over the summer, most of which are not applicable anymore,” said the commissioner. “ There are a lot of things we have to deal with if we’re going to return to play.”

Johnston also notes Bettman pointing out the 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue contained in the CBA. The commissioner said if the players end up getting overpaid they’ll have to repay the overage to the league over time if they don’t repay in the short term. He adds the two sides have had discussed the stresses on the system and how to navigate them, insisting the league is trying to find ways to continue working together.

I know it’s being portrayed as something else and it’s unfortunate and it’s inaccurate because at the end of the day if the system gets stressed it’s going to get stressed for the both of us,” said Bettman.

The commissioner also said the league is willing to shorten training camps and play one or two exhibition games before the season begins.

TSN: Frank Seravalli reports the NHLPA declined to comment yesterday on Bettman’s remarks. While the commissioner suggested the players could end up owing the league “more money than anyone imagined,” Seravalli cites sources saying the best, moderate, and worst-case scenarios were all fully modeled for both sides during the CBA extension negotiations.

Seravalli believes Bettman was also sending an unsubtle message to the players that the longer their potential debt to the league lingers, the lower future salary caps will be, in turn limiting their future earnings.

Asked if the current impasse might kill the 2020-21 season, Bettman said there are letters in the CBA put in for “our benefit” if things got out of control, “so we each have rights which we can adhere to.”

THE ATHLETIC: Pierre LeBrun believes Bettman is feeling pressure from some owners to alleviate cash concerns for the coming season. That explains why the commissioner made his recent requests for changes to the escrow and deferral rates.

While the players could stay resolute and call Bettman’s bluff, LeBrun believes they could instead accept increased salary deferral (though not at the league’s proposed rate) in exchange for something in return.

LeBrun also feels the course of the pandemic is becoming a greater obstacle to starting the season. He feels the prudent move for the league and PA is to give up on a Jan. 1 start and instead go for puck drop on Feb. 1 in the hope there’s a downturn in COVID-19 cases by then.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The players have every right to be upset over the league’s attempt to change those rates that were agreed upon in the CBA extension. While Bettman is correct that things have changed since the extension was ratified, he went into that agreement knowing what the worst-case scenario would be. He either didn’t really understand how serious it would be (doubtful) or he didn’t believe the worst-case would happen (plausible).

As Bettman noted, the CBA stipulates a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue. The PA’s likely argument, as reported by the New York Post’s Larry Brooks, is the assurance of the 50-50 split has been undone by the artificial caps on escrow combined with unlinking the salary cap from actual hockey-related revenue for the short term.

I don’t see the league agreeing with that argument. Bettman made that clear with his remarks about the players paying back the potential overage for this season.

Recent reports indicate Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr resumed daily discussions. I agree with LeBrun’s take that the players will likely accept an increase in salary deferral in exchange for something from the league.

My question is why Bettman didn’t make that pitch when he made his initial proposal? He had to know what the players’ reaction would be. Perhaps negotiations wouldn’t have stalled if he’d simply included a sweetener (like interest on the salary deferral) with his proposals. The commissioner either misjudged how the players would react or simply didn’t care.

SPORTSNET: Ads on jerseys, expanded playoffs, player-specific sponsorship and embracing gambling are four possible changes we could see in the NHL coming out of the pandemic.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The NHL will be getting a lucrative new US television contract at the end of this season and the additional hockey-related revenue from the expansion Seattle Kraken. Nevertheless, the pandemic’s effects upon revenue in the short term could force the league to seek new sources of revenue once the pandemic has passed.

FORBES.COM: Sports lawyer Eric Macramalla explains why an NHL lockout isn’t possible despite the intensified haggling over players’ salaries. The CBA prevents the league from locking out the players during the course of the agreement. It also prevents the players from going on strike. The league could suspend the season citing the pandemic as an event beyond its control but could have a difficult time justifying that if the PA took the league to court. Macramalla feels the current dispute can be settled because both sides have a vested interest in playing the coming season.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Agreed. The pandemic is a greater factor in determining the start of the season.



  1. Bettman says he is not threatening the NHLPA but…” The commissioner said if the players end up getting overpaid they’ll have to repay the overage to the league over time if they don’t repay in the short term.”…. although this nuance is covered in the CBA and is obvious … to me , sounds like an overt threat

    And “ doesn’t view it as renegotiating the CBA extension but merely addressing how the division of hockey-related revenue will be affected by the pandemic”…. it IS re-negotiating what has already been agreed upon. They already negotiated and came up with “worst case scenarios” to build the agreed upon CBA with the outlined escrows, deferral. No matter what…l the 50/50 split is outlined…. owners will be “made whole” at some point. This IS re-negotiating terms.

    Again, Yes 50/50 split , and potential over-pay… leads to players paying it back down the road. The owners WILL be made right using current CBA …. lower Cap down the road …. players in their thigh light years won’t care … they will be retired by then

    Owners request for increased deferral…. just means they (the owners) pay that portion later. If current Sals and future received deferrals are greater than 50% HRR…. players will still need to pay it back…. so that again would mean future hits to Cap… the changes requested are all related to cash flow

    As I mentioned before, these just seem like idle threats and I can’t possibly see NHL winning in court wrt season cancelation using force majeure.

    Yes inoculation is coming …. but not fast enough. Per Worldmeters …. yesterday in the States… 204 K cases, $2.8 K died. Canada… 6.3 K cases; and 114 died…… so let’s stop even mentioning a 1/1 season start.

    If the season is a go… 1/2 start

  2. ….The NHL will be getting a lucrative new US television contract at the end of this season…

    Will they?

    I keep hearing this assumption, but I think it is far from certain. While I’d love for that to be the case, I can’t see any of the major networks falling over themselves for this contract. Maybe a little bump over the current $’s, but as far as ‘lucrative’ goes —- I just don’t see it.

    • Whalercane networks become powerful the more content they can offer… it’s not just for tv for TVs stakes. There will be competition for those rights. I heard ESPN wants them bad so they will broadcast worldwide bringing in all kinds of $$$ for them both.

      • Which is why the league will not cancel the season.

      • Depends what you guys mean by lucrative. If you compare to what they get now, hell ya.
        Compared to NFL, hell no.
        The pro leagues are hurting for revenue, but so are the broadcasters. I tend to agree with Ron, they need content not just for regular TV either.
        Last deal was $2B for 10 yrs. At minimum this should double if not more?

        This past post season was strange and not sure what to make of it. Might have just been the timing of it, at least up here in Edmonton. The Oil lost early, weather was good and you could get out of the house and do something after being locked down for a couple months.

  3. Bettman is a slimey lawyer with no integrity. Trying to renegotiate the CBA is EXACTLY what he is trying to do. He makes me sick. He signed the deal, now live or die by it, you disgraceful excuse for a commissioner.

    • Finally a comment from you I can support. Except I think you were too kind. I’d amplify what you said about that walking pile of excrement but I’d likely have a stroke.

  4. Bettman is arrogant and detestable. Has been since day one. His parkinsons like head shake makes me ill. Attorneys will tell you, don’t respond to a question before it is fully asked. He shakes his head no every time he’s asked a question, before the interviewer finishes the question. I’ve never understood him doing that, but chalk it up to his perceived superiority/arrogance.

    • Bettman will be in the HOF.

      The NHL is a business.
      Bettman works for the owners.
      Bettman is there to run the League, make sure it is a profitable business.

      What the League looks like now compared to when he became Commish, is amazing.
      Everybody is making money.

      Yeah, he’s easy to hate: a lawyer, whiney voice, tiny (no athlete, he!), balding, accumulated past grievances, and, like everyone doing a high-pressure, high-stakes job – he has made mistakes.

      Anti-Semites get a bonus, he’s Jewish so they can hate on that.

      But, he’s done what he had to do.

      Compare him to his predecessors.

      Love him or hate him, imo you have to respect what he’s accomplished.


  5. It’s weird how some folks just trash people and use words like slimy and detestable when they have never met someone.
    I just don’t get it.
    He works for the owners and his job is to help them make as much money as possible.
    Seems to be pretty good at it as they keep him around.
    He is a lawyer who is in the middle of a difficult negotiation. He may be taking a position we don’t like, but that’s all it is.
    I still think they will work it out.

  6. People form judgements about people they have never met all the time. Do you have an opinion of Trudeau, O’Toole or perhaps Trump? Have you met them? We judge them by their words, deeds and persona.

    For those who want to champion Bettman and his accomplishments then you also must acknowledge he is the only commissioner of a major sports league who has presided over three lockouts. Do you feel you benefited as a fan from those disrupted or lost seasons?

    Has he been good for players? How about the NHL’s position, influenced by Bettman, on concussions? Have you compared it to the NFL’s position and settlement? Or the league refusal to allow players to participate in the Olympics? Or this latest gem regarding effectively amending a newly signed collective agreement with the threat that there might be a 4th lockout (whatever else Bettman might call it) under his reign?

    Oh yeah, Bettman has been good for hockey. And he is not an unctuous lawn gnome. He is just a guy doing a job.

    • Bettman is awesome. He has grown the game in the us tremendously thus amplifying the talent pool and revenues. I hated the lockouts but they have made the league competitively balanced and got a cap in place. They made the nhl stronger. Despite the cap keeping all teams able to be competitive (thank god nhl ain’t baseball) player overall salaries on the rise. But the nhl also isn’t the nfl who can term players at a whim. Nhl has struck a nice balance.

      No sport can say they are approaching concussions well… so that’s a wash.

      The olympics are a corrupt farce so no loss there.

      Bettman is bar none the best commissioner in professional sports.

      And judging by the comments on n this board he is also doing a great job at playing the villain. So instead of being angry at players and owners he highlights himself.

      Also nhl is navigating covid as well as could be expected…

      I’m at a loss for the vitriol he gets.

    • Yes we do make judgements on people all the time LJ. All day every day. Not what I said, or at least, meant to say.
      I prefer to focus on the job he is doing vs the vitriol. Good word choice Chrisms.
      Slimy and detestable? Them’s fightin’ words. Words matter.
      So unless someone has wronged you or other folks seriously, I wouldn’t use them.
      There are politicians that deserve it, you’re right about that. One in particular, as the decisions and actions are harming people in a serious way. He knows it and doesn’t care. And it is an observable fact.

      I think the league, and IOC are making a mistake not coming to an agreement, but I get the NHL’s argument and was surprised that the IOC didn’t budge. Methinks they come around next time. Bettman will win that one too.

      Bettman isn’t a great spokesperson, but to Chrisms point he is great at taking punches for the league and players. Never thought of it that way, but true that.

      • I often have to remind myself of Longfellow”s admonition about how superficial perception can lead to rash judgement–“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”

        That’s not to say that Bettman is depressed, but he might be, considering the problems he’s presently facing.

      • Ray and Chrisms: we can debate this all day, it comes down to perspective.

        I am not looking for the last word, but Bettman takes punches for the players? That’s an Alice in Wonderland comment.