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National Hockey League players announced Monday they will not opt out of the collective bargaining agreement, guaranteeing labor peace until at least 2022.
The NHL Players’ Association announced its decision just before the deadline to trigger its opt-out clause. Not terminating the CBA is a positive sign that negotiations are progressing toward an extension.
“While players have concerns with the current CBA, we agree with the league that working together to address those concerns is the preferred course of action instead of terminating the agreement following this season,” NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said. “We have been having discussions with the league about an extension of the CBA and expect that those talks will continue.”
Meetings between owners and players have been going on since February and increased in frequency in recent weeks. The league also did not opt out of the CBA, with Commissioner Gary Bettman citing momentum and the importance of labor peace overriding any issues the owners might have.
Players made significant concessions in the last CBA, which was agreed to in 2013. Escrow payments, health care, Olympic participation and what qualifies as hockey-related revenue are things players have cited as some of their top concerns — many of which could be addressed in a potential extension.
Very little information has come out of the CBA talks either internally among players or with owners. Several players believe that signaled a more united NHLPA and optimism that progress was being made.
“Every time you have any type of negotiation between two parties, those are the two parties that should be talking and it should not be through media or a third party because there’s a lot of things that get twisted and the more time the story gets told, something will change a little bit,” New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said recently. “If you can stick to just talking to the other side, I think it’s easier to get to the right answers and solutions.”
In a departure from labor negotiations of 2004-05 and 2012-13 that were full of rancor, Fehr has called this round cordial and pleasant. Bettman referred to it as “joint problem-solving” rather than a combative relationship.
“It’s a dialogue that continues,” Bettman said. “It’s a relationship that’s important, there’s mutual respect, there’s good communication flow and we’re busy focused on what may for each of our constituents be the appropriate path forward.”
The league and players seem to be on the same page at least in drawing up a calendar of more international play, which could mean another World Cup of Hockey as soon as February 2021. Hockey business is booming, and the NHL will be able to negotiate a new U.S. television rights deal that begins in 2021.
“I’m very optimistic about future possibilities, especially with U.S. media negotiations coming up in an environment that we haven’t yet had an opportunity to negotiate in,” Bettman said. “I remain very optimistic that revenues will continue to grow and will grow at a very healthy rate.”