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Gary Bettman says he’s taking a common-sense approach to try to get the NHL season underway.
And while the members of the NHL Players’ Association aren’t happy the league is asking them to come back to the table to work out the finances so the puck can drop on the 2020-21 campaign, the NHL commissioner maintains he’s not trying to renegotiate the collective bargaining agreement signed in July.
Speaking on a virtual “Dealmakers in Sports” conference held by the Sports Business Journal Daily on Wednesday, Bettman said he doesn’t want to change the CBA, but it has to make financial sense if the league is going to return to play.
He insisted that if the players don’t do their part now, then they’ll have to pay the escrow back at some point because the system calls for a 50/50 split on hockey-related revenues in the CBA.
“We’re not having negotiations and we’re not seeking to renegotiate,” Bettman told the conference. “We made a lot of assumptions over the summer, most of which aren’t applicable anymore.”
As has been noted before, Bettman has indicated the players can kick the can down the road on escrow, but if they don’t pay now then they’ll likely have to surrender some cash in the later years of the deal.
“If we overpay them and they don’t pay us back in the short term, they have to pay us back over time,” Bettman said. “There will be stresses on the system, and we’ve had discussions about what those stresses are and how they might be dealt with, but we’re not saying, ‘You must do X, Y and Z.’ We’re trying to look for ways to continue to work together.
“I know it’s being portrayed as something else, and it’s unfortunate and it’s inaccurate because, at the end of the day, if the system gets stressed it’s going to be stressed for both of us.”
While talks between Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daly and union executive director Donald Fehr continue, they haven’t been able to find a solution to set a date for the start of camps and it’s a certainty the league will have to move its Jan. 1 target date to begin.
Bettman didn’t feel that would be the case when he negotiated the CBA. But with the possibility of starting the season with empty arenas, the league is now looking for another $300 million in savings.
The only way Bettman and the owners feel they can return is by getting the players to raise the escrow from 20 to 25 per cent this season and more in the final three years of the deal. And the NHL also wants the players to defer more of their salaries from the 10 per cent level they agreed to in the summer.
“If the players owe us more money than anybody imagined, the salary cap could well be flat or close to flat for the next five or six years and players into the future will be repaying what we’re owed,” Bettman said. “The question isn’t, ‘We demand a renegotiation.’
“To the contrary, it’s, ‘We’ve seen the way the system is going to be impacted. Is it something that makes sense to deal with in the context of everything else that we may have to do which is out of the ordinary, and unanticipated, in order to be in a position to possibly play?’ ”
Meanwhile, the players are making their way back to their home cities even without an agreement.
Senators centre Colin White, who had returned to his Boston home when the NHL went on pause in March, is back in Ottawa. He has started his mandatory 14-day quarantine so he can be ready for whenever camp gets underway. And it appears winger Brady Tkachuk has also returned to the nation’s capital to self-isolate.
He posted a family photo Monday with mother Chantal, father Keith, sister Taryn and brother Matthew, with the caption “good run”.
Yes, the league has to figure out how everything will work financially, but as the spread of COVID-19 continues to rage in Canada and the U.S. it doesn’t feel like the situation will get better any time soon to allow fans into the rinks when the NHL does come back.
Bettman noted it’s impossible to set a start date right now and a lot will depend on the spread of the virus.
“That’s a work in progress, influenced largely by what we’re hearing from medical experts. COVID-19 is going through a second wave which could be worse than the first wave,” he said. “Between Thanksgiving and the aftermath, and what they think is going to happen for Christmas and the aftermath, we’re taking our time and making sure as we look for ways to move forward. We’re focused on health and safety, and doing the right things.”
Bettman said he understands people want a start date and a plan written in stone, but the NHL is taking the same approach that it took in the summer.
“We reversed field and wound up in places (in the summer) that we weren’t necessarily thinking about at the time we announced everything else,” Bettman said. “It was clear Toronto and Edmonton were the safest places in North America that we could go to, which is why we went there.”
Sounds like there’s no shortage of work to do.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020