NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – December 3, 2020
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.
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.
Doug Armstrong says he’d like Jay Bouwmeester to eventually come work for the @StLouisBlues. Player had a huge impact on the team’s success. Listen to full interview out now. @camandstrickpod pic.twitter.com/x4RK6FCRKf
— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) December 2, 2020