Should the NHLPA opt out of or continue with the current CBA?

Important league news came out yesterday when it was reported in the Globe and Mail that the NHL Players’ Association will opt not to reopen the CBA, and instead let the CBA run its course for next two years through the 2010-2011 season. There has been much debate thus far over what is the best for the players and what is best for the league. The general consensus has been that the players will be making the right choice given the current state of the economy and the fact that league revenues have steadily increased each year under the current CBA. As Nick Schultz, the Minnesota Wild’s player representative said, “The consensus on our team was, we didn’t think it was a good idea to reopen it. That has not changed. With the way the economy is right now, I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to shut it down. I just can’t see that happening. Now, I don’t know if they have other ideas, but this is our feeling.”

NHLPA declines to reopen contract


From Monday’s Globe and Mail
January 18, 2009 at 11:03 PM EST

The vote comes Thursday afternoon in a conference call among the NHL Players’ Association executive board but already a consensus has emerged:
the player representatives from the 30 teams will decide to carry on with the current collective agreement.

That’s the feeling among PA members as they prepare for a vote and announcement before the NHL’s all-star weekend in Montreal. With a downturn in the global economy coupled with struggling franchises in Phoenix, Florida and Tampa, to name just three, the players believe now is not the time to reopen the labour agreement and risk either a lockout or strike as a result of protracted negotiations.

“[NHL commissioner] Gary Bettman has been saying there’s a 2-per-cent increase [in 2008-09 revenues],” said Rob Davison, the Vancouver Canucks’
player rep. “If that’s the way the numbers are leaning, it’s another growth period. For the players, absolutely [the collective agreement is working].”

Nick Schultz, the Minnesota Wild’s player rep, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “I think it’s in our best interest, with how the economy is and how we’re just a few years from the lockout, to stick it out. Revenues have grown each year, so I think it’d be pretty crazy right now to reopen it.”

The PA was given the right to reopen the agreement after its fourth year providing it notified the NHL of its intentions by May 18. Earlier this season, the PA executive posed the same question to every player, “Should we terminate the CBA at the end of the current season?” The results were stored at the PA office in Toronto and will be tallied for information purposes before Thursday’s conference call.

The players enjoy many aspects of the CBA, principally how they share in 57 per cent of hockey-related revenues and how that has pushed the high end of the salary cap to $56.7-million (all figures U.S.) from the original $39-million set in the summer of 2005.

“I don’t think many [Montreal] guys will argue with the fact that over the last few years since the lockout it’s worked out very favourably for the players,” said Canadiens’ player rep Mike Komisarek.

There are, however, areas of concern among the players, chief among them having a percentage of their salary held in escrow to cover any shortcomings in the league’s projected revenues. The escrow payment so far this season has been set at 13.5 per cent, the highest yet, but there’s talk it could soon be raised to as high as 20 per cent.

And with several clubs in financial peril, the PA and its members are eager to have a voice in how the league reshapes itself.

“Why are we keeping Phoenix afloat at the players’ expense?” argued one player. “How can [the NHL] justify doing that when we’re supposed to be partners but we have no say? … The only reason the players would vote to reopen the CBA is to get rid of escrow. But what do we have to give up to get that? There should have been a cap on escrow just like in basketball.”

With the players having dealt with the CBA issue for now, the next question is how they move forward. Over the past few months, the PA has been negotiating with the NHL on sending more NHL teams to Europe, six at the start of the 2009-10 season, eight the following year followed by a World Cup of Hockey with continued talks on having NHL players compete at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Some of the money from those international games would go into the PA’s pension fund and be used for additional projects aimed at expanding the game at the grassroots level. So far, at least two Canadian teams are likely to be playing overseas. The Calgary Flames have expressed an interest in opening the 2009 season in Europe while the Toronto Maple Leafs are tentatively booked for 2010.

The teams and cities involved, according to report by The Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek, are: the Detroit Red Wings and the St. Louis Blues in Stockholm; Florida and the Chicago Blackhawks in Prague; Calgary and the San Jose Sharks in Helsinki. Details have not yet been made final.

The NHL and the PA agreed to change some of the wording in the current collective agreement to accommodate the games and how the revenue would be shared and used.