Two interesting CBA tidbits came out this week as Gary Bettman met with the General Managers at their annual meeting. About all he could tell them was that they will find themselves operating with an announced salary cap that will likely not apply next season.
The first interesting piece has Bettman on the CBA talks:
“We told the clubs to conduct business as usual and the update is there was no update. There’s nothing going on [in terms of talks]… The fact is when the union is ready to negotiate, we’ll be ready to sit down. I’m not particularly concerned about the timeline. There’s plenty of time.
“We have new union leadership, a lot of new personnel, and my guess is they still have a lot of work to do. And I’m okay with that. When they’re ready, we’re ready.
“Structurally, the fundamentals of the system have done what we expected, but I assume that when we sit down to bargain, both sides are going to have issues they want to focus on. But I have no intention of being specific yet on where we are.”
Second, there was the cancellation of next season’s opening games in Europe:
To date, there have been no formal bargaining talks between the league and NHL Players’ Association. However, the sides were in contact about the status of the premiere games for next season. The league was willing to schedule them, but an agreement couldn’t be reached with the NHLPA over how cancellation costs would be handled in the event of a work stoppage, according to two sources.
They still haven’t started talking yet? The fact that Donald Fehr is new in the job was a dubious explanation for delaying even until the All-Star break. It’s more than a little thin today and Bettman is surely frustrated by the waiting.
Donald Fehr knows he is going to get squeezed, and he’d prefer to get squeezed later. If that causes uncertainty among the GMs, so be it. He’s playing defense and delay is the first tactic. He’s telescoping the negotiating window and the time available for the NHL PR machine to drum up fan support for rich owners. Fehr is probably telling Gary, “June for sure. Late June, that is. Early July at the latest. Let me check my calendar again.”
Bettman is also correct: This is not a complicated negotiation and there is plenty of time. There are a few easy to resolve one way or the other issues and there is money. Bettman wants a big whack of money and Gary can hardly wait to tell the NHLPA how much more the owners want over the next ten years. Donald Fehr isn’t looking forward to it at all and he wants lots of players in that first meeting with Bettman. He’s going to let Gary tell them directly that they make way too much money.
The games in Europe are the first casualties of the war, but let’s not pretend that the issue was cancellation costs. The players are not planning to strike and will happily open the season without an agreement no matter how the negotiations are going. Cancellation costs would only apply if the owners locked out the players. Expecting the players to pony up cancellation costs if the owners won’t let them play is a bit much, isn’t it? (Apparently the league prefers “work stoppage” to the more accurate “the owners are going on strike again”.)
But cancelling the European games sends the players the message even without negotiations. If there isn’t a new CBA signed the owners are going to lock out the players until they do sign one. Why should Donald Fehr or the players to be in a rush to hear “We want $250 MM more a year and there will be no more hockey until you give it to us?”
Unfortunately for the players, Fehr can’t delay forever.