CHICAGO -- The NHL is now in wait-and-see mode. The puck is on the stick of the NHL Players Association to decide if it's going to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement or potentially move forward on making a deal for a new CBA.
The NHL decided last week it was not opting out of the deal that expires after the 2021-22 season. The players, meanwhile, have until Sept. 15 to opt out and such a decision would make the contract expire on Sept. 15, 2020 -- and put a lockout in the picture for next season.
"The discussions have been cordial, they’ve been pleasant," NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr said here Wednesday night after the players' executive committee met to discuss the issue. "It doesn’t mean there haven’t been disagreements and significant disagreements, but it has so far at least been free from rancor. And that’s a big improvement.”
Speaking at the NHL Player Media Tour here Thursday afternoon, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made it clear the league's decision not to opt out was rooted in its desire for continued labor peace as the game's revenue streams keep growing.
"Obviously there are things that we think are issues in the collective bargaining agreement but when we balanced that against stability and labor peace, we came out in favor of moving forward without the possibility of distraction," Bettman said. "The union has to make a similar decision. I think rancor would be a bit of an exaggeration. It's always been professional and cordial.
"There are no good guys or bad guys. This is a relationship. We've lived with each other for a long time and we're going to continue to live with each other. ... There are just people doing what they think is right."
Bettman said he did not want to influence the players' decision, but did strike a bit of an ominous tone even though an opt-out would still give the sides a year to hammer out a new deal.
"If they opt out, then we'll have to be focused on it at that time a little bit differently than we are now," Bettman said. "I'm not going to threaten anything or suggest anything. We'll deal with it if it happens. It's their decision and I don't want to say anything that impacts it one way or the other. It will be what it will be."
The two sides are scheduled to meet Friday in New York on the topic and continued meetings would be considered a good sign. The players are upset about escrow, which holds back a portion of their salaries tied to the 50-50 split of revenues between the players and the league, and want an agreement on international play regarding the Olympics and future World Cups.
"The escrow issue is widely misunderstood and that's part of the discussions we're having," Bettman said.
Escrow is aggravated by large, front-loaded contracts for players. It can be mitigated by new revenues such as wagering that may be tied to the player tracking system the league is planning to unveil sometime this season, and a new U.S. television contract. The current deal with NBC will expire in 2022 and a new one likely will pay the league at least triple its current figure of $200 million per season, and could potentially include other partners such as ESPN.
"This is joint-problem solving because at the end of the day, we agreed we would pay 50 percent (of revenues)," Bettman said. "No more, no less. The only question is what the mechanism is to get you there."