NHLPA sticking with CBA, ensuring labor peace

The NHLPA announced that it will not exercise its option to re-open the collective bargaining agreement following the 2019-20 season. The NHL previously decided not to trigger their opt-out clause, meaning the current CBA will remain intact through the 2021-22 season.

“While players have concerns with the current CBA, we agree with the league that working together to address those concerns is the preferred course of action instead of terminating the agreement following this season,” NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said in a statement. “We have been having discussions with the league about an extension of the CBA and expect that those talks will continue.”

The NHL has had three lockouts in commissioner Gary Bettman’s tenure. Both sides are hoping to avoid another one.

The NHL’s current CBA was ratified after the most recent lockout, in 2013. In that span, the league has seen a steady growth in revenue, which has pleased the owners. The Vegas Golden Knights joined the NHL in the 2017-18 season and the league is set to add a 32nd team in Seattle for the 2021-22 season. Seattle’s expansion fee is $650 million, up $150 million from what the Vegas ownership paid.

The NHL’s players have benefitted from the CBA, though many players have still expressed frustration over the escrow system, in which a percentage of a player’s salary is withheld every season to cover potential shortfalls on the part of the owners — with a portion refunded at the end of the season.

It’s a huge point of contention for players and something they hope can be amended.

“The No. 1 thing fans don’t know about is that we’re paying 10 to 20 percent [of our salary] in escrow every year,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews told ESPN in 2018. “So that’s the biggest thing on our list.”

Added 2018 league MVP Taylor Hall: “We’re paying so much on our checks every two weeks, it’s like astronomical. Hopefully we can bring something back.”

NHL players would also like some resolution about international play. Specifically, they would like the NHL to take a break for them to go to the Olympics. The NHL did not send its players to the 2018 games in PyeongChang, ending a streak of five-straight Olympic games with NHL player participation.

The Beijing Winter Games are set for 2022. The Olympic issue will be difficult to solve. Players and the NHL aren’t the only ones with a stake in the issue. It’s also a matter of the NHL finding an agreement with the IIHF and IOC.

The NHLPA not re-opening the CBA brings some optimism that the NHL can avoid another lockout.

“Of course the players are not looking for a fight,” Fehr told ESPN in January, “The players’ view is what it always has been. And what I expressed in the last go-around ad nauseam, is that from the players’ standpoint a work stoppage is the last resort you come to. You only do it when that’s a better option than the agreements that are on the table. That hasn’t been the management practice in a number of sports in the last 35 or 40 years. But hopefully this time will be different. We’ll see.”

ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski contributed to this report.

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