In a move expected for the past few days, the National Hockey League Players' Association announced it will pass on an option to re-open the Collective Bargaining Agreement this year, assuring labor peace for the next three years.
"We are making this announcement now because this should be viewed as positive news for all the stakeholders in our game," said Paul Kelly
, the NHLPA's executive director, during a Friday press conference at the Hyatt Regency here.
Now, the League and its players will operate under the current CBA, agreed to in 2005, until its expiration in 2011.
"Today is a day to talk about the good things that are happening in our sport," Kelly said. "We will play without interruption and we will continue to work with the NHL to grow the game."
Kelly made Friday's announcement after the 30 player representatives voted unanimously to continue under the current agreement.
The NHLPA made a point to stress that its choice to pass on the opportunity to opt out of the current CBA in no way suggests that the players are happy with every provision of the document that governs relations between the League and its players; but rather that now is not the time to put these issues on the front burner.
"I think, overall, (the CBA) has been OK," said Sheldon Souray
, an All-Star defenseman from Edmonton. "We've lived with the deal and we will continue to live with the deal.
"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. 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."
-- Commissioner Gary Bettman
"Collectively, as a union, we want to play and we are not opposed to having to live with the deal."
Tampa Bay center Vincent Lecavalier
echoed the sentiments of his union brother.
"There's a lot of things that the players are not happy about in the CBA, but I think today is a good day because we can move forward and extend and grow the game," Lecavalier said. "We're happy to be able to continue for the next four years."
The current CBA expires in 2011, but the NHLPA has the right to extend the agreement for another year, through the conclusion of the 2011-12 season.
With Friday's announcement, the players, fans and league officials can all devote their energies to making the 57th NHL All-Star game weekend an unforgettable event.
"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 can now move forward together and that the fans' focus can remain on the ice, where it belongs."
The union had a one-time opportunity to reopen the deal by Sept. 15, 2009, but is passing on that option for a variety of reasons -- chief among them a troubled economy that has provided significant challenges to some of the League's franchises.
Kelly admitted that the players found the option of reopening the CBA at this point to be an unattractive option. He said "a clear majority" of his 720-player union supports the Executive Board's decision to not terminate the CBA.
"The players certainly appreciate that another lockout would be extremely damaging to the sport," Kelly said.
The six-year deal that now remains in effect was agreed upon in July 2005, ending the 18-month lockout. That deal introduced a salary cap to the NHL for the first time, a concession that the players were hesitant to welcome at the onset of the work stoppage. But the cap has worked for both sides. It has tied salaries to hockey revenues to assure owners cost certainty. The salary cap has also grown each year the CBA has been in effect. In 2005, the cap was at $39 million. Today, it is almost $57 million and the salary floor -- the minimum a team can pay in player salaries -- stands at $40 million.
The press conference was attended by Kelly, NHLPA General Counsel Ian Penny, NHLPA Director of Player Affairs Glen Healy, as well as a number of players involved in this weekend's All-Star festivities -- Souray, Lecavalier, San Jose's Joe Thornton
, Chicago's Jonathan Toews
and the Montreal duo of Mike Komisarek
and Alexei Kovalev