No NHL work stoppage for at least 3 years as players decline to reopen agreement

The NHL Players’ Association has announced the union will not re-open the current collective bargaining agreement after the 2019-20 season, avoiding a potential lockout next September.

The NHL had the same right and informed the NHLPA it would not terminate the labour deal late last month.

The players had until Monday to make their decision, while the league’s deadline was Sept. 1.

The original 10-year agreement signed after the last lockout in 2013 included the opt-out clause after eight years for both sides.

The current agreement runs through Sept. 15, 2022.

“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 Don 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.”

Escrow payments among players’ concerns

Meetings between owners and players have been going on since February and increased in frequency in recent weeks. The league did not opt out of the agreement, with commissioner Gary Bettman citing momentum and the importance of labour peace overriding the issues owners might have.

“We are pleased with the NHL Players’ Association’s decision,” Bettman said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with the NHLPA for the benefit of all stakeholders, especially our fans.”

Players made significant concessions in the last CBA, which was agreed to in 2013. Escrow payments, health care, Olympic participation and what qualifies as hockey-related revenue are things players have cited as some of their top concerns — many of which could be addressed in a potential extension.

Very little information has come out of the CBA talks either internally among players or with owners. Several players believe that signalled a more united NHLPA and optimism that progress was being made.

“Every time you have any type of negotiation between two parties, those are the two parties that should be talking and it should not be through media or a third party because there’s a lot of things that get twisted and the more time the story gets told, something will change a little bit,” New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said recently. “If you can stick to just talking to the other side, I think it’s easier to get to the right answers and solutions.”

Through Players’ Association executive director Don Fehr, NHLers have cited escrow payments, health care, Olympic participation and what qualifies as hockey-related revenue as some of their top concerns. Chris Young/The Canadian Press (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

In a departure from labour negotiations of 2004-05 and 2012-13 that were full of rancour, Fehr has called this round cordial and pleasant. Bettman referred to it as “joint problem-solving” rather than a combative relationship.

World Cup in 2021?

“It’s a dialogue that continues,” Bettman said. “It’s a relationship that’s important, there’s mutual respect, there’s good communication flow and we’re busy focused on what may for each of our constituents be the appropriate path forward.”

The league and players seem to be on the same page at least in drawing up a calendar of more international play, which could mean another World Cup of Hockey as soon as February 2021. Hockey business is booming, and the NHL will be able to negotiate a new U.S. television rights deal that begins in 2021.

“I’m very optimistic about future possibilities, especially with U.S. media negotiations coming up in an environment that we haven’t yet had an opportunity to negotiate in,” Bettman said. “I remain very optimistic that revenues will continue to grow and will grow at a very healthy rate.”

NHLers went on strike in 1992, while owners have instituted a lockout on three separate occasions since. A chunk of the 1994-95 season was lost to a lockout and the entire 2004-05 campaign was cancelled.

The current agreement ended the lockout that reduced the 2012-13 season to a 48-game schedule.

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