A league that has seen two work stoppages since 2004 appeared to take a step in the right direction toward avoiding a third on Friday when the NHL announced it would not reopen the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The CBA is set to expire on Sept. 15, 2022, but the NHL had the option to opt-out of the final years and trigger a new expiration on Sept. 15, 2020.
By choosing to keep the CBA open, that seemingly paves the way for labor peace for an additional three years...or does it?
The league is happy with the current CBA, but that does not mean the players are. Like the NHL, the NHLPA also has the option to reopen the CBA and that’s why hockey fans everywhere should have Sept. 15 circled in their calendars. If the NHLPA decides to opt-out, that is the deadline.
Which way the NHLPA may be leaning is unknown. On Friday, the NHLPA released a statement saying simply, "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."
Why would the players potentially choose to reopen the CBA and thus risk a work stoppage next year?
The Associated Press surveyed union representatives and found that escrow was a major concern for the players.
As the owners and the players share a 50/50 split of hockey-related revenue, a certain percentage of player salaries is withheld in escrow to make up for the difference.
Another issue that is perhaps more pressing given the timing is Olympic participation.
If the CBA remains open to September 2022, it would mean Olympic participation in the 2022 Beijing Olympics would not be guaranteed. It is not a right given to the players in the current CBA and the NHL elected not to allow players to participate in Pyeongchang in 2018.
While those are concerns the players may have regarding the current CBA, the question now is whether the NHLPA feels strongly enough about those issues to reopen the CBA three years early.
It is important to note that if the NHLPA elects not to reopen the CBA, it does not necessarily mean the players cannot participate in Beijing. It simply means it will not be guaranteed to them in the CBA. Will the threat of missing another Olympic tournament be enough for the players to risk a possible work stoppage? That is a question that will be decided by Sept. 15.
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