Both the NHL and NHL Players’ Association sounded optimistic in discussing preliminary talks ahead of the end of the current collective bargaining agreement, with league commissioner Gary Bettman declaring, “We’re not looking for a fight.”
FILE PHOTO: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media prior to the ice hockey NHL Global Series match of the Florida Panthers vs Winnipeg Jets in Helsinki, Finland November 1, 2018. Lehtikuva/Martti Kainulainen via REUTERS
Bettman and union representative Mathieu Schneider both spoke to reporters before Friday’s Skills Challenge during All-Star weekend in San Jose, with each party complimenting the other for starting proactive discussions as the NHL and NHLPA try to avert a fourth lockout since 1994 before the current deal is up in 2022. Both sides have the choice to opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement in September.
“The discussions have been cordial and constructive, even though they’re preliminary,” Bettman said.
With the league having a streak of work stoppages surrounding negotiations of each of the past three CBAs, all within Bettman’s tenure as commissioner, both parties spoke in cautiously optimistic tones about the early talks.
“We’ve had a couple of meetings and we’re exploring the possibility of whether we can bridge gaps early,” said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. “Earlier the better. We obviously understand the difficulties we’ve had in the past. I think both parties have acknowledged that. I think the fact that we’re sitting down having constructive dialog on open issues at an early date is very positive.
“I can’t tell you where it will go. We’re, as I said, in the very early stages of that process. But it’s been a good process to this point.”
With NHL revenues skyrocketing to nearly $5 billion annually as opposed to $400 million when Bettman first held the job in 1993, most of the public questions fall on the players’ side and whether or not they will push for a bigger piece economically — in addition to other issues like whether or not NHL players will return to Olympic action after sitting out the 2018 Games.
“In 2012, you could cut the tension with a knife when you were sitting in those first couple of meetings and in most meetings,” said Schneider, the NHLPA’s special assistant to the executive director. “We’re able to have these discussions now without that tension, without any walls being built up, and it’s been very positive so far.”
“We’re in a place in our relationship where we communicate very well, we have constructive and candid dialog,” Bettman said. “The players financially, as the league financially, has never done better. Everybody is going to take a good hard look in terms of what’s important and what they may or may not have to have. In a cold sober look at where we are, both the players and the owners are going to have to figure out what’s important.”
—Field Level Media