Donald Fehr

NHLPA declines to reopen CBA, ensuring labor peace through 2022

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There will be labor peace in the NHL for at least the next three years.

The NHLPA announced on Monday that they are declining their option to reopen the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The players could have opted out, which would have meant the current agreement, which ends after the 2021-22 season would have instead concluded on Sept. 15, 2020.

“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,” said NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr in a statement. “We have been having discussions with the League about an extension of the CBA and expect that those talks will continue.”

“We are pleased with the NHL Players’ Association’s decision not to reopen the Collective Bargaining Agreement,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with the NHLPA for the benefit of all stakeholders, especially our fans.”

The NHL’s owners had a Sept. 1 deadline to decide if they wanted to reopen the CBA but chose against doing so stating, “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.”

While the league has expressed its happiness with the current agreement and is fine with letting the final three years run out, the players, while they’ve chosen against reopening it, certainly have issues that they want to iron out. As escrow and future Olympic participation stand as two of the biggest topics that require clarity, the fact that  talks between both sides in the lead up to these deadlines have been categorized as fairly positive makes one hopeful for long-term labor peace.

“I can only speak from the League standpoint,” said Bettman during the NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago earlier this month. “Obviously there are things that we think are issues in the collective bargaining agreement, but when we balance that against stability and labor peace, we came out in favor of moving forward without the possibility of distraction. The union has to make a similar decision.

“I think in all of our dealings over the years, I think rancor would be a bit of an exaggeration. It’s always been professional. It’s always been cordial. I think the issue comes when there are major issues of disagreement. Even on those issues where we’re focused where a change might be appropriate, we’ve decided now is not the time, and if we can work through our issues and possibly extend the CBA, that would be a good thing.”

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.

Quiet nature of NHL labor talks breeds cautious optimism

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Representatives from the NHL and NHL Players’ Association have met numerous times over the past eight months and not once in a secret underground bunker or a dark parking garage.

Unlike previous collective bargaining negotiations that spilled out into the public, few details are emerging from behind closed doors, a development that provides more than a little quiet optimism that hockey won’t face its third work stoppage in two decades.

”It’s probably the way it should be, and I think that’s probably a good sign that there is some mutual respect and both sides are trying to come to agreements,” Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. ”You have mutual dedication to keeping our game going down the same path and not disrupting that.”

Players have until Sunday to decide whether to opt out of the current labor contract effective September 2020 after owners decided earlier this month not to trigger their opt-out clause. The sides met twice in the past five days to try to hammer out a CBA extension, and the fragments of reports coming out of talks suggest an environment of cooperation that is less contentious than previous negotiations.

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr described talks as cordial and pleasant. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman called it joint problem-solving. That doesn’t mean there aren’t disagreements, but they may not be big enough to cause the cancellation of games, which is what happened in 2012-13 and 2004-05.

”This is an outgrowth of a relationship that is many years old, even with Don in hockey coming over from baseball,” Bettman said. ”It’s a dialogue that continues. 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.”

On the job since 2010, Fehr said these talks have so far been ”free from rancor” and deemed that a big improvement. It’s certainly a divergence from the past two CBA disputes in the NHL that were marred by leaks. It all leads labor expert Stephen F. Ross to infer talks are progressing better this time around.

”The NHL has a particular history that I think would allow a, not 100 percent choice, but a relatively optimistic interpretation of silence,” said Ross, director of the Penn State Institute for Sports Law, Policy and Research. ”The fact that there’s nothing public and no leaks suggests to me a high likelihood that things are going well and nobody wants to damage the good relations.”

Toews and other prominent players have made it known they’re not happy with some financial aspects of the CBA, namely the escrow payments connected to the 50/50 split of hockey revenues with owners. Health care and Olympic participation are also issues, though there could by other topics moving to the forefront privately.

That’s no accident.

”We’ve been told to give the answer that we’re working on it,” Arizona Coyotes player representative Derek Stepan said. ”Everyone’s on the same page, and that’s huge. I went through the one in 2012 and it seemed a little more chaotic. But this one, it seems a little more organized and guys are on the same page, and that’s a huge thing.”

Bettman and the owners showed a unified front in announcing they would like to maintain labor peace for the next few years because the league is healthy. It’s no surprise given the owners’ gains in the 2005 and 2013 agreements that they feel this way, and players were always the ones most likely to reopen this CBA to tweak some things.

Several players said the diverse, 700-plus-member NHLPA is united on what is important and how to proceed. Roughly 50 players met last week in Chicago, and there is consensus talks are moving in the right direction.

”Just from what I’ve heard, everything’s been really positive,” Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. ”I try not to read into everything too much, but I think initially everything seems really good.”

If players decide not to opt out, the NHL is guaranteed labor peace for at least the next three seasons with the hope the two sides can extend it longer than that. A CBA extension could still happen over the next year if players opt out, but there’s no telling how that move might change negotiations.

”If they opt out, then we’ll have to be focused on this at the time a little differently than we are right now,” Bettman said. ”I’m not going to threaten anything. I’m not going to suggest anything. We’ll deal with it if that’s what happens. It’s their decision and I don’t want to say anything that impacts that decision one way or the other. It’ll be what it’ll be.”

Ross said Fehr, who was the longtime head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, is a master at playing the chess match of preparing for and weighing various scenarios in bargaining talks. He’s not showing his hand on which way the NHLPA might be leaning.

”Guys understand the importance of this and what’s coming up, they’re informed and we’re on the same page,” said Ryan O'Reilly, whose St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup last season. ”There’s stuff going on, and hopefully it gets solved the right way.”

NHL, NHLPA set to meet again to talk CBA extension

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CHICAGO — The NHL and NHL Players’ Association will meet again Friday in New York to continue collective bargaining negotiations.

Players have until Sept. 15 to decide whether to terminate the current collective bargaining agreement effective a year from now. Owners had the same option and chose not to end it, citing the health of the league and the momentum from a period of labor peace.

Unlike previous negotiations where Commissioner Gary Bettman said there was a need for fundamental changes, the issues this time appear more manageable. Bettman described it as ”joint problem-solving” between the league and players, which has sparked the ongoing dialogue.

”I said this to (NHLPA executive director Don Fehr) when I told him we weren’t reopening: ‘Listen, we’ve been at this since February. Whatever you need in the next two weeks subject to existing commitments … we’re at your disposal,”’ Bettman said Thursday. ”Whatever (players) want in their period of having to decide what to do, we’ll try to be as accommodating as possible.”

The two sides could negotiate an extension of the current CBA with some changes. If players decide not to opt out and there’s no extension, the CBA expires in September 2022.

Roughly 50 players from the executive board and others in town met Wednesday night. Chicago Blackhawks player representative Jonathan Toews said the 700-plus-member group is pretty close to having a consensus on major issues.

”I cannot remember in all my career in both sports, a decision of that magnitude that wouldn’t be lopsided or unanimous,” Fehr said. ”I would be astonished if it would be split.”

There’s no public indication which way players are leaning with 10 days left to make a decision that could set the clock ticking toward the NHL’s third work stoppage over the past two decades. Bettman and Fehr each said an extension of the deadline has not been discussed, so the players are currently on the clock.

”There’s some serious things that everyone has to be informed (about) and understand inside and out before we make a decision like that,” Toews said. ”To reopen, you have to try and understand all the possibilities of each scenario. We’re kind of going through those motions right now.”

NHL decides not to reopen CBA; Now NHLPA must decide

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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.

MORE:
• 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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Report: Realignment being discussed once again

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Now that the NHL and NHLPA have put the labor stuff behind them for the next 8-10 years, they’ve got a new project to tackle.

Larry Brooks of the New York Post reports the two sides are discussing realignment once again and this time they’re going to make sure everyone’s on the same page. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly tells Brooks they are working on a realignment plan for next season but nothing has been approved or finalized by the Board of Governors.

NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr hopes the union’s fears over extended travel for some teams as well as competitive balance worries can be allayed by being kept abreast of what the NHL wants to do.

“We expect to talk with the league on the subject this week,” Fehr said. “A year ago, when we raised the issue of increased travel for teams, the league did not have mock schedules for us to review that might have alleviated our concern.”

After going through a labor war, getting realignment figured out should be a relative walk in the park. If the league wants to stick to their “four conferences” plan and a return to divisional playoffs, however, the competitive balance issue will be tough to wrangle with 30 teams. It wouldn’t be a shock to see expansion discussed to alleviate that issue.