The initial shock has worn off but members of the NHL Players’ Association remain firm.
Yes, the players would like to get the 2020-21 campaign under way as soon as possible, however, they’re not willing to do so if it means changing the collective bargaining agreement that was signed in July.
While talks between NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly and the NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr continue, they haven’t been able to find a solution to set a date for the start of training camps and it’s likely the league will have to move its Jan. 1 target date.
The union held a call with more than 150 players Wednesday and then with its executive Thursday to see if there’s a way to break the stalemate with the league seeking more than $300 million in savings to get the year under way by deferring salary and making changes to escrow.
With American Thanksgiving set for next Thursday, the players feel they’ve given enough. They don’t want to go beyond paying the 20% escrow and 10% deferral that was already agreed upon.
“The NHL is waiting on a response from the PA and I don’t think the players want to do anything with respect to that proposal,” said Ottawa-based lawyer Andy Scott, an agent with Octagon Hockey, Sunday. “Looking at it from 30,000 feet, you go back to the CBA extension that was signed in July and you’re four months into the future and they’re already looking renegotiate.
“That CBA was extended in the midst of the pandemic. Nothing has changed and no more information has come to light in the last four months. We knew we were in a pandemic, they finished the season in a bubble, the Stanley Cup was awarded in September and we’re still not into the 2020-21 season. The NHL is asking for all these concessions to a contract that was formalized four months ago.
“The players need to stand firm and they need to set a precedent they aren’t willing to negotiate in the middle of a CBA.”
So, here we sit.
When Ottawa Senators’ owner Eugene Melnyk was on the Bob McCown podcast last weekend he indicated he was optimistic there would be a season because Bettman “was working very hard” to make it happen, but noted not all the owners are on board with playing this season.
“There’s a lot of stuff that has to get done financially because everybody’s taking a big hit,” Melnyk said.
And, that’s the issue. The NHL doesn’t have a massive TV deal like the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball to rely on. About 45% of the league’s revenues come from ticket sales and the expectation is some teams will be playing in empty arenas to start the season because of local gathering regulations.
San Jose Sharks’ president Jonathan Becher told the Mercury News Friday the club may have to move its camp if it starts next month unless it gets permission to skate in larger groups from Santa Clara County health officials. If that’s the case, they won’t be selling tickets any time soon.
Scott, who represents the likes of Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine, Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl and Chicago’s Calvin de Haan, said this battle could get ugly.
“You’ve got to look at the litigation risk if you’re the NHL. Article Seven of the CBA states you’re not entitled to enter into a lockout in the middle of a CBA,” Scott said. “The NHLPA could challenge the owners if they decide not to go ahead with the season based on economic reasons.
“They could challenge that this stance is an illegal lockout. So there’s significant litigation risk by the NHL.”
Sitting out a full season isn’t something Bettman, Daly and some of the owners want. First of all, with the other professional leagues all playing, it makes zero sense for the NHL to disappear off the radar screen. Plus, you can be certain the NHL doesn’t want a legal fight in the midst of a pandemic.
The sense is the two sides will find a way to get this figured out but it’s doubtful there will be a Jan. 1 start. There have been several suggestions that with the holiday season around the corner, camps may get under way around Jan. 2 and then a 48-to-56 games season would begin in late January.
“The NHL is entitled to ask, they’re entitled to make a proposal and they’re entitled to make a request but the players are also very much entitled to stand firm and I think they should,” Scott said.
This is why the NHLPA is advising its members to stay put where they are until a deal is in place.
“I don’t (sic) Jan. 1 is out of the question yet but I certainly Jan. 15 or late-January is a much more realistic timetable,” Scott said. “Some of our players already live in the city they play in but for the guys who are doing cross-border travel the advice is you don’t need to do anything right now.
“The players I’ve spoken to are standing firm on the contract that was negotiated and nobody wants to open that again on the players side.”
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