Citing what it called momentum from a sustained period of labor peace, the NHL said Friday it has informed the NHL Players' Association it will not use its option to terminate the existing collective bargaining agreement next year.
The league announced its decision two days before its deadline to notify the union whether it would reopen collective bargaining talks. The union has until Sept. 15 to decide on whether to terminate the agreement as of September 2020, two years before the existing deal expires.
"We will continue to discuss this matter with our players as our September 15 decision approaches," the union said.
If the players opt to reopen the CBA, it would set the clock ticking toward a potential third work stoppage in the sport since 2004. If the players choose not to terminate the agreement, it remains in effect until 2022. The next Winter Olympics are in Beijing earlier that year.
"Based on the current state of the game and the business of the game, the NHL believes it is essential to continue building upon the momentum we have created with our players," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement issued by the league. "It is our hope that a continued sustained period of labor peace will enable us to further grow the game and benefit all constituent groups."
The players, however, have concerns, notably regarding the escrow issue, Olympic participation and the split of hockey-related revenue. The NHL and NHLPA are in agreement on wanting more international competition and are in talks about holding another World Cup of Hockey as early as February 2021.
The NHLPA executive board is scheduled to meet in Chicago on Wednesday. The league and union have been meeting through the summer and those discussions are scheduled to continue.
Escrow is a major concern for the players, according to a majority of union representatives surveyed by The Associated Press and Canadian Press last spring.
The current CBA has owners and players dividing hockey-related revenue 50/50, and if player salaries exceed that split a certain percentage is withheld in escrow to make it even. Players have complained, saying some have lost upward of 10% of their pay to escrow over the past seven seasons.
"I don't know if we're going to eliminate it," New Jersey Devils player rep Cory Schneider said. "Obviously we'll figure that part out. But at least some way to mitigate it or control it better for us just to know what to expect."
The league has countered by saying escrow is a function of the salary-cap system, with the amount of money held back being higher when the upper limit on salaries is higher.
On Friday, Bettman stressed a desire to have a cooperative approach between owners and players.
"In any CBA, the parties can always identify issues they are unhappy with and would like to see changed," Bettman said. "However, our analysis makes clear that the benefits of continuing to operate under the terms of the current CBA - while working with the Players' Association to address our respective concerns - far outweigh the disruptive consequences of terminating it following the upcoming season."
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