If you’re a hockey fan nervous about the prospect of another lockout, then Friday brings good news — but this announcement doesn’t slam the door shut on another agonizing work stoppage.
The NHL announced that it has decided not to reopen the league’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement, as the owners and Commissioner Gary Bettman faced a Sept. 1 deadline to do so. We’re not out of the woods yet, though, as the NHLPA faces a Sept. 15 deadline with a similar option.
Bettman’s statement indicates that the league wants to play through the full CBA, which is set to expire on Sept. 15, 2022 if the NHLPA decides to make the same choice that the league just did. Here’s Bettman’s statement:
“Based on the current state of the game and the business of the game, the NHL believes it is essential to continue building upon the momentum we have created with our Players and, therefore, will not exercise its option to reopen the CBA. Rather, we are prepared to have the current CBA remain in effect for its full term – three more seasons through the conclusion of the 2021-22 season.
“It is our hope that a continued, sustained period of labor peace will enable us to further grow the game and benefit all constituent groups: NHL Players, Clubs, our business partners and, most important, our fans.
“In any CBA, the parties can always identify issues they are unhappy with and would like to see changed. This is certainly true from the League’s standpoint. However, our analysis makes clear that the benefits of continuing to operate under the terms of the current CBA – while working with the Players’ Association to address our respective concerns – far outweigh the disruptive consequences of terminating it following the upcoming season.”
The NHLPA released a statement as well:
“Today the NHL advised the NHLPA that the league will not exercise its early termination right under the CBA. The NHLPA now has the same option. We will continue to discuss this matter with players as our September 15 decision approaches.”
The players have some gripes, with how escrow eats up their salary looming largest, with 2022 Olympic participation also ranking among their top concerns. It also cannot be ignored that players likely have some hard feelings from past lockouts, possibly making some a little bit more willing to force the league into a fight it says it wants to avoid.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the Sept. 15 deadline could be moved, too:
If the NHLPA decided to reopen the CBA, the threat of a lockout would loom over the 2020-21 season, not the upcoming 2019-20 campaign. While that development would be a concern, it wouldn’t necessarily guarantee a work stoppage anyway, as the two sides would have a year to hash out a new CBA.
For fans, it would certainly be a lot more pleasant if the NHLPA did the same as the NHL and let the CBA play out, but we’ll see how the union feels — whether that decision comes by Sept. 15 or not.
In other words, a battle has been won to avoid a work stoppage, but the war isn’t over. Here’s hoping that this time around, the league’s regular season isn’t one of the casualties.
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.