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NHL, NHLPA to continue discussing collective bargaining agreement

Players' union has Sept. 15 deadline to reopen deal after League declined option

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

CHICAGO -- The NHL and the NHL Players' Association will continue to discuss the NHL/NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement in New York on Friday.

The NHLPA has until Sept. 15 to exercise its option to reopen the agreement, which would trigger its expiration Sept. 15, 2020, if the sides don't agree to an extension before then. The League declined to exercise its option by its deadline of Sept. 1. The agreement is scheduled to expire Sept. 15, 2022.

"I can only speak from the League standpoint," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said at the NHL Player Media Tour on Thursday. "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."

The NHL is in a different place than it was in July 2005 and January 2013, when the last two agreements were settled.

"We needed fundamental changes in the last two collective bargaining (talks)," Commissioner Bettman said. "We ultimately got the changes we wanted, and it's made the game stronger. The game is more competitive, more entertaining, more skillful. The business of the game, the strength of franchises … The players have never made more.

"So the things that we sought that were important, and we had to endure some difficult times for, ultimately got us to where we are. And if you're not dealing with issues of that level, hopefully sensibility prevails and you move forward and continue the progress that you've made."

The NHL and the NHLPA have met regularly throughout the offseason to discuss a possible extension and plan to continue meeting. Each side has said the talks have been productive and cordial. 

Even if the NHLPA files by Sept. 15 to reopen the agreement, the sides would have a year before it expires to negotiate some kind of agreement, whether it be a new agreement or pushing back the expiration date of the current one.

An issue for the NHLPA is escrow, the mechanism that ensures the 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue between the owners and the players under the agreement. A percentage of players' salaries is held in escrow until hockey-related revenue is determined. If the owners pay more than 50 percent of hockey-related revenue in salaries, they are reimbursed. If they pay less, the players are reimbursed.

"The escrow issue is widely misunderstood, and that's part of the discussions we're having," Commissioner Bettman. "When the system was initially designed, the (NHL salary) cap was set at a place where it was likely that the contracts would call for more than 50 percent. We could have designed the system which ensured that we never paid 50 percent and we'd have to write a check at the end of the season, which is our obligation now. If we have a huge revenue growth and salaries that are committed to don't equal the 50 percent, we write the check, and we're good with that. We've done it at least twice."

The escrow amount depends on several factors, including where the salary cap is set, the amount of signing bonuses and the number of front-loaded contracts. The reimbursement time depends on the accounting time.

"We agreed we would pay 50 percent, no more, no less," Commissioner Bettman said. "The only question is, 'What's the mechanism that gets you there?' And that's where I think there's a lot of confusion.

"At the end of the day, the Players' Association with the players has to figure out how they want to approach it, and we have to figure out what we're comfortable with.

"It's joint problem-solving. This is a relationship, and like any relationship, it's important that you acknowledge and respect each other, but you may not agree on everything. But if you understand what's important to both sides, you try and work your way through it."

Commissioner Bettman said the sides have not discussed extending the NHLPA deadline.

Asked if it would affect negotiations if the NHLPA reopened the agreement, the Commissioner said, "If they opt out, then we'll have to be focused on this at the time a little differently than we are right now. 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."

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