By Josh Dubow (AP Sports Writer)
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday the owners aren’t ”looking for a fight” when it comes to collective bargaining negotiations with the players.
The current CBA runs until 2022, but the league and players each have the option this September to terminate it effective Sept. 15, 2020. Bettman said at a news conference at All-Star weekend that the owners are mostly satisfied with the last two negotiations that instituted a salary cap and then provided an even split of hockey-related revenues between players and owners.
”There’s no question that the league is healthier now dramatically,” Bettman said. ”We wouldn’t be where we are today if we didn’t have a system that corrected some of the ills in the past. We have stability, we have competitive balance and the game is able to grow. That’s good for everyone involved with the game.”
NHLPA special assistant to the executive director Mathieu Schneider agreed that the tenor of discussions has improved in a sport that has had one strike and three lockouts since 1992, but that players want to recoup some of the losses they suffered in the last two negotiations, including an end to the escrow payments that ensure the 50-50 split in revenues.
However, Schneider said he didn’t agree that the players are in control of whether there will be another work stoppage.
”There’s no question that the players have given back billions of dollars over the course of the past two negotiations,” Schneider said. ”That’s no secret. I don’t think I’d characterize it as the ball’s in the players’ hands.”
Both sides have had productive talks already and were able to reach an agreement on player and puck tracking , which Bettman said bodes well for more difficult negotiations ahead.
Schneider said the tension that was present at the start of the last talks that led to a lockout that wiped out 510 games is in in the past and both sides agree the relationship between players and owners is stronger than ever.
”Hopefully, we’re at a place where labor peace can be more important than anything else we need to accomplish,” Bettman said. ”Because I think the opportunities in front of us are even greater than what’s been behind us.”
Another potential sticking point is international play. Players were upset the league didn’t allow them to participate in the 2018 Olympics and want assurances that they can play in the 2022 games in Beijing.
The sides agreed not to stage the World Cup of Hockey in 2020 because of the uncertainty of the labor agreement but hope to hammer out a plan for international play in the current CBA negotiations. Schneider said the players would be open to playing the World Cup in February 2021 during a break in the season, but Bettman downplayed that possibility.
”I think we’d all like to develop that long-term calendar,” Schneider said. ”For whatever reason, we can sit here and point fingers at each other, it hasn’t gotten done.”
In other news, Bettman said next season will open with a game in Prague and there will also be regular-season games in Stockholm, as well as exhibitions in Germany and Switzerland. The league also is working on going back to China for preseason games.
The league announced two outdoor games for next season with the Dallas Stars hosting Nashville in the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day at the Cotton Bowl and Colorado playing Los Angeles at the Air Force Academy later in the season.
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