Sabres relieved there will be no lockout next year, hope spirit of negotiation continues

Sabres relieved there will be no lockout next year, hope spirit of negotiation continues

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NHLPA Member Meeting

NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr speaks at a news conference with league players in New York on Sept. 13, 2012, at the start of the lockout that delayed the 2012-13 NHL season. (Getty Images file photo)

This is what labor peace looks like in the NHL: No fears of a lockout and a defined schedule to frame negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement.

The NHL and NHL Players' Association agree they have issues with the current CBA that they would like rectified, but the spirit of collaboration continues. On the deadline for its decision a couple of weeks ago, the league said it was not opting out of the current agreement next year. On their deadline day Monday, the players announced a similar choice in what rates as a major victory for the sport and its fans.

What do those key decisions mean? The current deal will run as scheduled through Sept. 15, 2022 – instead of expiring next year and putting the 2020-21 season in jeopardy of a lockout.

The goal of the sides is now to keep negotiating on an extension reportedly in the range of three or four years, perhaps as far into the future as 2027. And that would take the game into an era of tranquility that would push more than a decade from the 2013 lockout.

"It's good to know and good to let our fans know, tell the people who follow the game of hockey there's not going to be a work stoppage next year," Sabres captain Jack Eichel said Tuesday in KeyBank Center. "It's good for the game, good for revenue. We had a couple good talks with the PA and the executive board. A lot of guys had opinions and it's important they're all brought forward."

As season looms, Sabres player rep Jake McCabe keeps close watch on opt-out decision

"We know what's in front of us now, for sure," added Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe, the team's NHLPA executive board representative. "That I think was the whole point of the (opt-out) deadline, so we knew what we would be dealing with."

The decisions of both sides not only assured no lockout next season, but also took away all the chatter about an expiring CBA that would have surely become a major talking point to this season.

"If we had reopened, it would have been 12 months away and that 12 months comes pretty quick," Eichel said. "The fans have seen in the past with lockouts that it's a tough battle. Obviously, I wasn't around for those, so I'm trying to educate myself now to understand the process and what goes on. It's been good to listen and learn."

The players are looking for relief on the escrow issue that takes money out of their paychecks, in some cases more than 10%, and want a specific calendar for international play starting with the 2022 Beijing Olympics. For its part, the NHL has an industry approaching $5 billion in annual revenues that is sure to grow even more with Seattle coming aboard as the 32nd franchise and a much more lucrative American television contract is negotiated.

As per the 2013 CBA, there is a 50-50 split of revenues between the players and owners. The escrow issue is a complicated one, as Commissioner Gary Bettman noted earlier this month at the league's Player Media Tour in Chicago. Continued revenue growth and a subsequent increase in the salary cap could help mitigate the escrow pinch players are currently feeling.

"Hopefully Gary and the NHL keep working towards an agreement like they've been talking about during this time and we get something done in the next couple of years," McCabe said. "You just want to see revenues grow. We all do. Players had a good discussion and it was a very informative process so we know where we're heading."

As for international play, the NHL is reportedly considering a World Cup in February 2021 in place of the All-Star Game. Players are mostly focused on the '22 Olympics after the league opted not to go to the Games last year in South Korea.

"The World Cup was amazing, a great event," said Eichel, who played for Team North America at the 2016 tournament in Toronto. "But you grow up as a kid and you want to represent your country. I've been fortunate to be able to do that on every stage but the Olympics. The whole experience of being in an Olympic Village, the opening ceremonies, being involved in something that big on a worldwide scale means a lot to a lot of guys in the NHL, including myself.

"Hopefully we can figure out a way to get our best players over there. It's important to put the best product on the ice in the Olympics and that helps grow the game."

Inside the NHL: A year later, Eichel revels in World Cup memories

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