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NHL players' association declines to reopen CBA

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MONTREAL (AP) -The NHL Players' Association is not thrilled with everything in the current collective bargaining agreement with the league, but sees no reason to stop playing under these terms yet.

The union's executive board turned down an opportunity Friday to reopen the CBA, which has been in effect for 3 1/2 seasons, to ensure hockey labor peace through the 2010-11 season.

The players' association had until May to decide, but chose to make the announcement early during NHL All-Star weekend. The NHLPA can extend the deal, which ended the yearlong lockout in 2005, for another season if it chooses. That determination won't have to be made until May 2011.

"There are many aspects of the deal that we are not satisfied with and I'm sure that several of the owners would probably make the same statement," NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly said Friday. "If either side identifies issues of serious concern, we should seek to isolate, address and resolve those issues if possible.

"That way when we arrive at the 11th hour in this deal, hopefully we will have the platform of our next agreement substantially completed. All that should be left are a handful of issues to be resolved."

The NHL held out to get a "cost-certainty" model and finally convinced the union to accept a salary-cap system after the 2004-05 season was canceled due to the lockout. League revenues have grown every year since, and the current minimum payroll for each team now exceeds the original cap ceiling of $39 million.

"This announcement certifies the players' endorsement of the collective bargaining agreement and affirms that the system is working in the manner anticipated from its inception," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "We are extremely pleased that the league and the players now can move forward together and that the fans' focus can remain on the ice, where it belongs."

What could be a more pressing issue for players is the money taken from their paychecks and held in escrow. Players pay into escrow accounts throughout the season as insurance for owners in case salaries take up more than 54 percent of league revenues.

The amount removed this season has been 13.5 percent and could rise to as much as 25 percent. In previous seasons, players have gotten that money back but that won't be the case this time.

"The realization is the economy is the economy right now," San Jose Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. "Everybody is struggling now, not just the hockey players. We're pretty fortunate with what we do to be able to make the money we make.

"It's tough for everybody. You're talking ... who knows, it might be a quarter of your paycheck. I don't know if your lifestyle is going to change that much but it's certainly not fun."

League revenues have risen substantially under the current CBA. Kelly said they were expected to go up again, but likely in the modest 2 percent range. The salary cap could go down next season for the first time.

The average player salary was $1.8 million in the season before the lockout. Now it's $2.2 million.

"You're tying it into league revenues," Boyle said. "We all want the game to get better. We all win the better the game gets. This is the kind of realization where we are in this time. I don't know what the answer is."

Kelly said the biggest reason to keep the CBA status quo was to prevent the possibility of a lockout or strike for at least two years.

"The players certainly appreciate that another lockout would have been enormously damaging to the sport," he said. "We seem to have rebounded pretty well from the last one. The sport has grown pretty substantially each of the past three years.

"The guys that went through the lockout, it was a difficult time for those guys. It is almost like you're still recovering from the last hangover, and do you really want to go out and do this all over again so close in time?"

It's not only the players who are dealing with the loss of money. Reports say teams in the south along with the Phoenix Coyotes have struggled financially.

Although the union has no veto power as far as relocation, Kelly said the players' association would like to negotiate with the league to have its voice heard before any such decisions are made. He does not believe the contraction of teams is a likely solution.

"We hope that those franchises will hang on and do well," Kelly said. "The players want to do whatever can be done to help those franchises survive. If there is some talk of relocation, the point we made is that we would like to be at the table. We'd like to have a say on where those franchises and new teams - whether it's expansion or relocation - where those franchises might end up.

"I can't point to anything specific, but I would not at all be surprised to see a team move in the next five years. Maybe more than one."

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