In the weeks since the NHL and NHL Players Association opted against re-opening the current collective bargaining agreement, negotiations have continued between the two sides.
Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported Saturday the league and the PA held conference calls aimed at working toward a CBA extension in the coming months. He indicated they have shared business interests to address, including the establishment of a clear calendar of international events.
Johnston claims the players still have a strong interest in best-on-best international competition. They’re willing to take part in another World Cup of Hockey tournament, but only if it’s part of a larger plan that includes the Winter Olympics.
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The league remains keen to hold another World Cup, as well as staging future Global Series of regular-season games outside North America. But according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly, the team owners have no interest in Olympic participation.
Daly told NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman the owners don’t see the Olympics as useful to their business.
“It’s highly disruptive to our season, puts our players in jeopardy of injury with no financial benefit to the NHL or its clubs,” he said.
The same arguments could be made against the World Cup of Hockey. Granted, that preseason tournament doesn’t disrupt the regular-season schedule. However, it takes each teams’ best players out of training camp at a time when coaches and general managers attempt to evaluate their respective rosters for the coming season. The players still face the same risk of injury regardless of which international tournament they’re skating in.
Financial benefit is the biggest reason behind the owners reluctance. Being a preseason tournament, the World Cup of Hockey doesn’t affect hockey revenue related to the regular-season schedule. Furthermore, all revenue derived from that tournament is divided between the league and the players.
Since NHL players first appeared in the 1998 Winter Olympics, the league hasn’t seen any significant increase in the popularity of its product. The owners grew increasingly unhappy over shuttering the league at mid-season for two or three weeks to allow their players to participate.
Perhaps the biggest reason behind the owners’ unhappiness was because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stopped covering travel, insurance, accommodations and other costs for NHL players taking part in Olympic action. The league declined a $20 million offer from International Ice Hockey Federation to cover those costs for the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.
As Johnston noted, the league would not only have to change its stance, but also conduct separate negotiations with the IOC regarding those cost.
The players’ willingness to take part in future Olympic tournaments could be a potential sticking point in the current CBA extension talks. However, it’s probably not the hill they’re willing to die on.
Escrow deductions remain the biggest issue for the players. After several years of having up to 15 percent clawed back from their paychecks and getting little of it back by season’s end, they want a different system to lessen escrow’s bite. Post-career health care and revisiting how hockey-related revenue is determined are also among their concerns.
It’s difficult to believe the players would derail real progress toward long-term labor peace by making the Olympics their line in the sand. Ultimately, more money in their bank accounts will likely trump the pursuit of Olympic glory.
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