CBA negotiations

On Marner and teams paying the price for developing top talent

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Maybe it’s time for a change.

Maybe it’s time for the owners and the NHL to sit down and hash out something that makes sense so that the former doesn’t get punished when they draft and develop good players.

So that the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t have to worry about losing Mitch Marner because of cap problems.

So that the Winnipeg Jets don’t have to sell off assets, including perhaps some they’ve groomed since the day they drafted them, just to sign Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor — also players born and bred in Winnipeg’s system.

The list goes on and on, from Brayden Point in Tampa to Mikko Rantanen in Colorado. There’s an endless drove of teams who have drafted great players and now have to potentially make their rosters worse just to afford them.

It all seems kind of backward.

Last week, TSN’s Bob McKenzie said something quite interesting while on TSN 1050’s OverDrive show, a sobering reminder to NHL teams right before the 2019 NHL Draft.

“If you draft good players and you develop good players, and they’re stars and they represent, basically, the future of your hockey club, you’re screwed,” he said.

We’re seeing that in Toronto right now. The Maple Leafs have had to pay millions to Auston Matthews — a draft pick — William Nylander — a draft pick — and now have to figure out a way to keep Marner — a draft pick — in the fold.

The argument there, of course, is that they didn’t have to go out and sign John Tavares in free agency. Or perhaps they should never have given Nylander what he wanted.

But teams have no choice these days. Drafted stars need to be supplemented with ones available through other channels to make a team competitive.

“These guys want to get paid,” McKenzie went on to add. “And there’s no external mechanism to settle a dispute between Mitch Marner and the Toronto Maple Leafs other than him withholding his services with the Leafs giving him close to what he wants. You kind of have to pick your poison. It’s why [William] Nylander did what as well as did and it’s why [Auston] Matthews did what as well as did.”

Some of the rhetoric surrounding the Marner deal and others is that these players should take a friendlier contract to help the team out and give them the best chance to win a Stanley Cup.

Please.

[Is Marner really going to leave Toronto?]

There’s a business side to the NHL that is separate from a player’s drive to become a Stanley Cup champion. These guys have, or will have, families to feed, kids to put through college and a future to make sure is all set. They’re in a fortunate position where they’re among the greatest in the world at what they do and in a market that dictates that salaries are paid out in the millions.

But take away the money aspect for a second, that doctors should get paid more, or firefighters or whoever else may be in roles that come with more risk. Or this silly sentiment. It’s irrelevant anyway.

Strip it down to what it is. An employee is looking out for his own interests. He’s performed better than others and wants to be compensated as such. The pay scale suggests that the best get paid the best, regardless of seniority, and that every new raise is the benchmark for the next. 

So when it’s your turn to take a walk from the cubicle into your boss’ office, you aren’t going in there to tell him/her that you’ll take the minimum for the company’s sake. No. You want your fair share of the pie. And if you had an agent, you’d probably be pushing the upper limits of what is fair.

Why is this any different in the NHL? Because young players and their agents are greed machines capable only of working inflated, astronomical numbers? No. It’s because if they perform better than another player, they want to be compensated as such.

And don’t blame the player, as Ice T once said. Hate the game.

Marner owes Toronto nothing in negotiations. He’s merely following the flow set out before him.

And for fans: You can’t call one of your players the greatest thing since sliced bread one day and then put him on blast the next for asking to get paid like he’s the next big thing.

So circling back to the change bit, perhaps teams should be protected to some degree when it comes to players they draft and develop.

Something like teams getting cap relief on homegrown talent, maybe having their contracts only hit the team’s cap for half. Or maybe something along the lines of one or two special contracts that don’t hit the cap at all, an exemption of sorts.

These contracts would only be for players the team has spent time and money grooming since they drafted them. It would allow for top players to receive top money and teams wouldn’t have to worry about losing said players or having to perform roster surgery just to keep them.

Of course, there would have to be rules attached to all of this. A set amount a team can pay certain players comes to mind. But it might be the first step in teams avoiding the “you’re screwed” part of the game just because you drafted well.

The draft shouldn’t come with a downside. Teams shouldn’t select a player knowing that in several years, they’ll have to make a choice on whether or not to keep that player or do harm to their team by selling off other pieces just to keep hold of them.

And those returns often become draft picks and the vicious cycle continues: Draft, develop, make another team better.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck.

Escrow tops NHL players’ list of concerns ahead of CBA talks

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Jonathan Toews says he just wants his contract to be worth what it says on paper.

Right now, it’s not that simple.

Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement, NHL owners and players divide hockey-related revenue 50/50, and if player salaries exceed that split a certain percentage is withheld in escrow to make it even. The Chicago Blackhawks captain and fellow players have lost upward of 10% of their pay to escrow over the past seven seasons, which is why 25 of 31 NHL Players’ Association representatives surveyed by The Associated Press and Canadian Press named escrow as the biggest bargaining issue with September deadlines looming to terminate the current CBA effective the fall of 2020.

”A. escrow and B. escrow,” Toews said when asked the two biggest issues in labor talks.

Olympic participation, the definition of hockey-related revenue, post-career health care, concerns about youth squeezing out older players because of the salary cap and money were the other topics player reps pointed to as important to them.

Escrow, though, is a point of contention in locker rooms around the league. It is expected to be a significant topic in talks ahead of the owners’ Sept. 1 and players’ Sept. 15 deadline to opt out of this CBA and set the clock ticking toward another potential work stoppage.

”I think we, as players, are really educating ourselves on the economics of the game and how it works and why escrow is the way it is,” New Jersey Devils player rep Cory Schneider said. ”There are a lot of things that go into it, and we understand from the owners’ side how it works. But for us that’s definitely something that, it fluctuates quarter to quarter, year to year, so you never really know what it’s going to be and it’s hard to really understand what you’re earning or what your worth is when you’re getting a big chunk of it taken back.

”I don’t know if we’re going to eliminate it. Obviously we’ll figure that part out. But at least some way to mitigate it or control it better for us just to know what to expect.”

The CBA sets aside some part of a player’s salary in a bank account throughout the year. After the season, total revenue is calculated and if the league is not at its 50% share, it gets the escrow money to make up the difference.

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said escrow has been discussed in talks with Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and expects more to come. But there’s no quick fix to reduce or eliminate escrow without changing substantial things about the economics of the league.

”Obviously it’s an irritant to players and from time to time it can be a big one,” Fehr said. ”But the question is how you do it. I mean, you can fix escrow by cutting salaries. I don’t think players are interested in doing that. So it has to become something that you address in a manner which makes sense for the players and addresses their concerns.”

A handful of players voiced their concern that revenues aren’t growing enough to compensate for the natural growth of salaries – and the cap – over time. Because seven of 31 teams are based in Canada, the fluctuation of the Canadian dollar affects everything, and players would like to find a solution to the entire financial picture, including a look at what counts as hockey-related revenue.

”There’s definitely a concern and always an emphasis on the revenues and us growing the game,” Toronto Maple Leafs player rep John Tavares said. ”That’s a top priority because I think when we see growth, we’re obviously going to see it on the business side. When you feel the hit of escrow on top of whatever taxes we have to pay, it’s definitely something that guys notice and something you don’t enjoy seeing. It’s important to us, but in saying that the bigger picture is the growth of the game. When that happens, when we do those things right, that’ll lead to more revenues that will hopefully lead to some adjustments.”

Commissioner Gary Bettman calls escrow ”a function of the cap” and said it’s going to be higher when that upper limit on salaries is higher.

”There are things you can do, either immediately or over time (where) you can manage the cap differently, which would manage the escrow, and those are things that obviously we need to be talking about,” Bettman said.

It’s not the only thing. Many players have expressed their desire to guarantee Olympic participation, though it seems impossible to collectively bargain because the International Ice Hockey Federation and International Olympic Committee are also involved. Countless business and political factors will go into whether the NHL sends its players to the Beijing Games in 2022.

One issue mentioned by players that can be bargained is how players are taken care of after they retire. Vancouver Canucks player rep Bo Horvat said medical coverage, treatment for concussion issues and other things matter.

He’s not alone in prioritizing that with talks ongoing and some optimism of maintaining labor peace because the issues are at least more straightforward than the last round of talks in 2012-13.

”Post-career stuff, health care stuff, lots of little things like that that are important to players as far as livelihood going forward,” Minnesota Wild player rep Devan Dubnyk said. ”The good news is there’s not anything major, but certainly some things we’re going to want to be talked about.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Bettman: NHL will discuss video review; no China preseason games in 2019

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BOSTON — There will plenty for the NHL’s Competition Committee and the League’s 31 general managers to discuss when both groups meet on separate dates next month, but the leading topic of discussion will be what to do with video review.

As we know, the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs have featured plenty of officiating controversies, highlighted by the missed hand pass by San Jose Sharks forward Timo Meier in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final that immediately lead to Erik Karlsson’s overtime winner against the St. Louis Blues. No one, outside of the Sharks and their fans, was happy with the missed called and the officials’ inability to review the play.

Meeting with the media ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that feedback will be solicited from the appropriate parties and then discussions will begins to either tweak the video review process or leave it unchanged.

“Consistency is going to be as important as anything else,” said Bettman, who also noted the League is concerned with slowing the game down. “We understand from the track record what the issue are and where the problems can be in implementation.”

What won’t happen is a reduction in what plays can be reviewed. “I don’t think you can go backwards anymore. That ship has sailed,” Bettman said.

NO CHINA GAMES IN 2019-20

China is set to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding in the fall, which put a wrinkle in the NHL trying to finalize arrangements to hold preseason games in the country again next season. The Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames played two games in September as part of the League’s strategy to grow the game over there.

But the NHL is still attempting to have a presence in China in 2019.

“We’re going to double down on our efforts in China. We’re going to really ramp up our presence there,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. “Hopefully including over this summer with player visits and league visits, Players’ Association visits and the like. We’re going to continue to invest in grassroots and school programs and continue to fuel growth of youth hockey in China.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Bettman also responded to IIHF president Rene Fasel’s quote over the weekend at the World Championship that said he’d like to set a September 2020 deadline for the league to make a commitment to the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing. Bettman said nothing has been communicated to the league regarding that yet.

CBA DISCUSSIONS CONTINUE

The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association have continued having dialogue in hopes of avoiding another work stoppage at the end of the 2021-22 season. In September, both sides have the option to end the agreement one year early — after the 2020-21 season — but there’s still a long way to go before any final decisions are made.

“We both recognize what’s at stake come September in terms of each of us having unilateral right to shorten the agreement and have it expire in 2020, as opposed to 2022,” said Daly.

“When you think about where the game is and the state of the business of the game and how it’s grown, there’s a lot to be said for labor peace, and that’s something we’re very focused on,” Bettman said. “If you asked the Players’ Association, [Don Fehr] could list 10 or 15 things he’d like to change in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. We could probably do the same thing but ultimately this is going to come down to what’s most important.”

Talks between the sides will continue this summer.

“Everybody has their own thoughts It depends on what happens,” said Fehr. “We’ve got a board meeting in a couple of weeks. Then we’ll have player meetings all summer long. If we need another board meeting the end of August, first month of September, we will.”

NHL AND WOMEN’S HOCKEY

The NHL will continue watching as the “dust settles” in women’s hockey now that the CWHL has folded and 200 professional players have declared they will sit out the 2019-20 season in hopes of a long-term, economically viable solution Is found in North America.

“Whether or not it’s appropriate for us to get involved with a league, at least starting our own league, is something that not everybody agrees on from afar and it’s not anything we’ve focused on yet,” said Bettman.

The NHL was involved in set up the U.S.-Canada Rivalry Series in February and included Kendall Coyne Schofield, Brianna Decker, Rebecca Johnston and Renata Fast in NHL All-Star Weekend in January. Bettman said in the meantime they will continue to be involved in one-off ideas.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Bettman: NHL owners not ‘looking for a fight’ in CBA talks

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.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

NHL, NHLPA agree to no World Cup in 2020

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The World Cup of Hockey will not happen in 2020, but that doesn’t mean the popular tournament is dead in the water.

That is the message from both the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players’ Association late Wednesday.

Both entities released statements stating each party’s agreement that a World Cup of Hockey in 2020 would be unrealistic to schedule.

“The players are focused on finding the proper time to schedule the World Cup of Hockey within the context of an overall international hockey calendar,” a statement from the NHLPA read. “While we and the league have discussed the possibility of holding the next World Cup in September 2020, we jointly concluded that it is unrealistic to expect that preparations for the vent would be completed in that time.”

The NHL’s statement said that both parties held constructive meetings in Toronto on Wednesday.

The NHL’s statement echoed that of the NHLPA and say both parties “plan to continue their dialogue with the hope of being able to schedules the next World Cup event as part of a broader agreement, which would include a long-term international event calendar.”

[Related: NHL and NHLPA meet to discuss CBA, World Cup of Hockey]

Looming large over all of this is the current collective bargaining agreement, which is in place until 2022 unless one side elects to terminate it. That early window to opt out of the current arrangement opens on Sept. 1, 2019, for the NHL and Sept. 15, 2019, for the NHLPA.

The thought is that, if the World Cup in 2020 had gone forward, it would have signified some semblance of peace between the NHL and the NHLPA in terms of labor talks. The fear here, then, is that both sides aren’t close enough to an agreement.

The flip side is that the World Cup is a massive event that would take much planning and coordinating to get sorted in a year-and-a-half.

For now, it seems like both sides are looking in the same direction, together. That’s a positive sign as no one wants lost hockey in any form. Delaying the World Cup is worth it if harmony (and a new CBA) sans a work stoppage is the end result.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck