“Nobody wants to cancel the season.” NHL talks resume, but angry players discuss starting as late as February 1

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NHL players have reacted angrily to Commissioner Gary Bettman’s comment that he was not trying to “renegotiate” the deal the league signed with the Players Association in July.

“A lot of guys have called and want to know what’s going on,” an industry source told The Star, after a day of developments that really don’t seem to have brought the NHL any closer to releasing a schedule for the season. to come up.

While the latest NHL start date statement targeted January 1, players are now focusing on January 15 or February 1 in return-to-play talks between them, according to multiple sources.

“Nobody wants to cancel the season,” said a source.

Talks between Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr resumed this week after 10 days of inactivity, dating back to when Bettman approached the union for an additional $ 300 million in concessions to help homeowners to get through a season that would start at least without a live crowd.

His comments this week in an online interview with the Sports Business Journal’s Dealmakers in Sports conference did not help his position with players. In it, he said he was not trying to reopen the league’s memorandum of understanding by asking for further concessions, which didn’t suit the players. He also said the league is “taking its time” with the schedule to see how the impact of the pandemic is playing out.

To the players, it looked like an idle threat: give us some money or we won’t plan the season.

On this front, TSN has reported and the Star has confirmed that the NHLPA is preparing legal briefs that would take the NHL to court if such a conflict arises.

The league may well believe it has the right to do so, citing the dangers of the pandemic and its management powers under Article 5 of the collective agreement. A lockout is however expressly prohibited under the terms of the memorandum and the 2012-13 contract which it extended.

Players believe that by negotiating during a pandemic – and several sources have told The Star repeatedly that the spring-summer negotiations foresee a season without fans – they have given the league and owners the tools they need to finish. a season.

“Good luck explaining to a judge why the New York Knicks can play in a pandemic when the New York Rangers can’t, when it’s the same owner and the same arena,” a second source said. ‘industry.

What is at stake is how the parties divide the income from hockey.

The league had made roughly $ 5 billion in revenue, dropping to $ 3.1 billion once the pandemic struck, halting the season and leading to the Stanley Cup playoffs in the summer. Some have suggested that revenue for 2020-2021 could drop to $ 2.5 billion.

The memorandum made up the difference. The players have agreed that this season they will take 72% of their salaries, with 10% simply postponed to a later date. Conservatively, that was like giving back owners about $ 700 million this season.

That still means gamers expect to collect around $ 1.8 billion in salaries, which is $ 550 million more than what the traditional 50/50 split might allow. The memorandum Bettman and the owners agreed to this summer says they will be paid off later, in seven years. Some owners have told Bettman they want that money now, arguing that they would be better off financially by not playing if they don’t get it.

Bettman also appears to be trying to drive a wedge between the players.

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It’s in the best interests of well-paid players, and those nearing the end of their careers, to get as much as possible now – so 72%. It is in the best interests of young players on entry-level deals to hope for a bigger salary cap in the future, for a bigger payday.

Deferring reimbursements to owners during the term of the protocol will keep the salary cap constant.

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