Seattle’s incoming NHL franchise got some welcome news Friday when the league announced it will not be exercising its option to reopen its collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with players two years early.
That lessens the chance of a work stoppage 13 months from now that could impact the yearlong run-up to Seattle’s franchise debut in October 2021. The NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA) still has until Sept. 15 to announce whether it plans to reopen CBA talks early, though the league’s move now puts public pressure on the union to follow suit and avoid a potential labor disruption.
NHL Seattle president and CEO Tod Leiweke said Friday: “We trust in our commissioner and the process and look forward to a great launch in 2021.”
If the players opt not to trigger a CBA clause allowing the reopening of the deal, it would run its course through the first full 2021-22 season in which the Seattle team plays.
A Friday afternoon release put out by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said: “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 gave no immediate response to Friday’s announcement, nor indicated whether it plans to continue the current deal through September 2022 or reopen talks early. The current contract structure would give the league and players a full year to negotiate ahead of the CBA being reopened next September and potentially avert a work stoppage similar to the three others that have plagued the league under Bettman since the 1994-95 season.
Major sticking points between players and owners have included the “escrow’’ portions of contracts in which a percentage of player salary is withheld annually to ensure a required 50-50 split in revenues with owners. The NHL sets a revenue projection amount annually that is midrange between upper and lower salary cap limits and when more is spent by teams on players than gets taken in by the league, part of the withheld escrow money goes to owners to balance things out. Any leftover escrow is paid to players.
Another source of contention is player participation in the next Winter Olympics — with players supporting it but owners leery of a disruption to their schedule.