Around the NHL: Collective Bargaining Updates

Yesterday was a wall of news from Bob McKenzie. He provided an update on the non-announcement of Hub Cities, which we could see today. (Hopefully, please). And he also gave a ton of new information on what is going on in regards to the NHL vs. NHLPA labour discussions. Below is a breakdown of some of the key information he shared that will possibly form the next collective agreement.

This seems like an absolute dream for the NHL. Coming out of the pandemic the league will no longer have to worry about a more controllable stoppage. The Seattle expansion team will get an honest run to start and not be shut down months after starting, and TV contracts can be negotiated knowing the product will be on TV. As for the players, it’s debatable how much leverage they had left after they decided not to reopen the CBA this summer and let it run the additional two years. The economic uncertainty has probably made them more agreeable to the owners terms, which might bite them in the ass soon.

The escrow being capped is probably the key piece in getting the players on board with what is a very favourable situation for otherwise the for the owners. This might be giving up a lot, but when most players have relatively short careers, they are probably not in the position where they are thinking about the next generation of players to come after them, and what the rest of this deal means.

This will be a fun one to see in execution as that puts a lot of teams in tight spots. The next couple of summers of free agency will be odd to say the least and trading players will become even more of a challenge. Perhaps there will be compliance buyouts to help or the league won’t rush to close the LTIR loopholes, but this seems like it will make for some interesting GMing.

I’m curious what will become of this, as if I was a player with a bonus laden deal (i.e. Auston Matthews gets $15.2M of his $15.9M salary paid on July 1st) I would probably want my money now. That’s what he agreed upon, so it’s a pretty big concession on behalf of the players if they allowed the owners to defer these payments. As for the owners, some of the more cash strapped teams are probably in bad shape if they are paying out major bonuses without revenue coming in.

The case and point for why this is an issue is what we’re living through now, but this again feels like a major concession on behalf of the players with very little coming back to them in other areas. The problem for a team like the Leafs is that after paying out a ton of money as a signing bonus they now have a player who is much more tradeable to teams that don’t want to spend real money but have the room for a cap hit. This could bite Toronto in the ass in the future.

In a time when so many loopholes are being closed it would be nice to see the NHL give one back to GMs. How great would it have been if the Leafs could have offered Jake Muzzin an eight year deal, with four years of legitimate pay followed up by four at the league minimum to bring the cap hit down and make it buyout or retirement friendly?

I can never think of anything that matters less to me than International hockey, but just because I don’t care for it doesn’t mean that it isn’t something important to both sides bargaining on it. The return of the World Cup initially sounds like a bummer, and the idea of dropping the Olympics probably isn’t ideal to the players but is more understandable now more than other times. It’s a convenient time for owners to be negotiating on this, and hopefully the NHLPA didn’t give up on this too easily.

All and all, the idea of uninterrupted hockey is damned appealing. Or at least hockey that won’t be interrupted by labour disputes. The cap situation seems like it will be hellish going forward and teams like Toronto will have some tough decisions to make on players complimentary to their core and even then may struggle to find homes for the players they are willing to ship out. The fact that an expansion team is coming in next summer to help offset some of the salary cap tightness is going to be quite fortunate.

Interestingly enough, we still haven’t heard anything around players pushing for safety, mental health, life after hockey supports, or establishing the means to raise concerns over coaches or front offices that are biased against them. There’s no talk of changes to the draft age, the entry level contract years or starting point of unrestricted free agency which are all usually contentious issues, and instead everyone seems to be tripping over themselves to sign off on the status quo.

While guaranteeing hockey being played is a good priority, the rushed process seems to be costing some positives steps in potentially improving the product, and that’s a little unfortunate.