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Labor Peace in Our Time: NHLPA & NHL Ratify 4 Year CBA Extension & Return to Play Format

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This evening, the NHL and the NHLPA ratified the Return to Play format and a four-year extension to the Contract Bargaining Agreement with modifications. This is fantastic news and an overview of what happens now for the NHL with a Devils-focus.

2020 NHL Draft Lottery
Gary Bettman and the NHLPA worked out a four-year CBA extension and a Return to Play format.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/NHLI via Getty Images

Earlier this week, the NHL and the NHLPA negotiators came to a tentative agreement for both the Return to Play format and a four-year extension of the Contract Bargaining Agreement, along with several changes to the CBA. With the memorandum of understanding signed on Tuesday, the plans were sent to the NHL Board of Governors and the entire NHLPA to be voted on by this Friday evening. Both sides had to vote in favor of or against ratifying both; one could not be approved without the other. This evening, Bob McKenzie of TSN and Renaud Lavoie of TVA both confirmed that the NHL and the NHLPA have ratified the Return to Play format and the CBA extension. Frank Seravalli reported that the players voted heavily in favor, with roughly 79% approval. It was not even close to being close. We will have hockey this Summer. We will have Labor Peace in Our Time for up to six more years.

This is fantastic news regardless of the fact that the New Jersey Devils will not return to play until the 2020-21 season and the sentiment that perhaps there should be no hockey at all until then. The CBA extension alone is worth celebrating. This means any concerns about work stoppage are pushed back to 2026, which is four years after the CBA was originally planned to expire. This means the NHL will not go into national broadcast negotiations without any assurance that any new deals will not be delayed due to a lockout. This means Seattle can join the league and hit the ice running for a few seasons before any potential labor-strife-driven pause. We will actually be able to say the NHL went ten seasons without a lockout over CBA issues in 2022. This is wonderful.

As far as how the new CBA will impact the Devils, we will have plenty of posts in the coming week going into more detail about how it does or does not benefit Our Favorite Team. Here are the biggest highlights among the CBA changes to consider until then:

  • The salary cap for 2020-21 will be flat at $81.5 million. It will remain at $81.5 million until hockey-related revenue exceeds $4.8 billion.
  • The NHL minimum salary will increase to $750,000 for the next four seasons and then get bumped up to $750,000 in 2024-25 and then $800,000 in 2025-26.
  • Trade clauses will transfer in any trades even if they are waived. For example, if Travis Zajac waived his no-trade clause for a deal, then the new team will get Zajac and his original no-trade clause.
  • Players are deferring 10% of their salary and bonus money in 2020-21 and they will have it paid back in equal installments from 2023-24 to 2025-26.
  • Players who have contracts expiring after the 2020-21 season can sign an extension that will start in 2021-22 three days after the CBA is ratified. That would be Monday, as confirmed by Bob McKenzie. (Thanks to TheJRod2006 for noting this important detail in the comments in the earlier post.)
  • The NHL will allow its players to go to the 2022 Winter Olympics as well as the 2026 Winter Olympics, pending negotiations with the IIHF and IOC.

While the Devils are not returning to play, now permanent GM Tom Fitzgerald has time to evaluate the new CBA and identify where he can take his opportunities. He and six other teams are in the offseason now. It is crucial that they prepare as much as possible as the other 24 teams will be more focused on playing hockey games. What the now full-time Fitzgerald will do is anyone’s guess. Only one question was asked related this in yesterday’s press conference - thank you, Greg Wyshynski - about navigating a flat cap and utilizing the team’s cap space. Fitzgerald did not really answer the question beyond stating there were opportunities. Like everyone else, we shall see.

As far as the Return to Play format, there is not much impact for the Devils other than their conditional draft picks and how it sets up the offseason schedule. As a reminder, the Devils will get Arizona’s first round draft pick in 2020 if they do not win the second phase of the NHL Draft Lottery, which will take place on August 10. They will also get the pick if Arizona beats Nashville in the Qualifying Round, but it will be a lower pick. The Devils will get Vancouver’s first round draft pick if they beat Minnesota. If they do not, then they will get it next year. So even though the Devils are not playing, there are hockey games that are worth watching.

The games will also come really soon and in bunches. I do not know if it is confirmed yet, but it is my understanding that they could be held throughout the afternoon and evening. It is possible that you can watch live hockey all day in August. Per NHL.com, the games will begin on August 1. Here are other critical dates as per the NHL’s announcement:

  • Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery: August 10
  • First round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs: August 11
  • Conference Finals of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs: September 8 (Tentative)
  • 2020 Stanley Cup Finals: September 22 through October 4 (Tentative)
  • 2020 NHL Draft: October 9 and October 10.

The announcement also stated that the free agency period will begin after the Stanley Cup Finals and NHL Draft, but did not provide a specific date. So it could be October 11 or some time a little later. But circle your calendars for Friday, October 9 and Saturday, October 10. We finally have draft dates.

(Update: The NHL has put up a game schedule on their website. All games will either be in Toronto or Edmonton. There will be five to six games played each day from August 1 to August 9. Yes, there will be all-day hockey in August, traditionally a dead period for the NHL. Embrace the action. And thank the ice rink crews, they are going to be busy.)

In the interim, expect more news to come from the NHL and the players. Per Bob McKenzie, players have until 5 PM ET on Monday to opt-out. I encourage all fans to not begrudge any player for opting out. This is a global pandemic and everyone has their own personal situation and reasons for doing so. Per Jason Gregor, the NHL will announce finalists for 2019-20 season awards over the next two weeks with the winners being announced during the Conference Finals series. We should also get confirmation on where the hub cities are - likely Edmonton and Toronto; game and broadcast schedules; and solid dates for the draft.

I would not expect a lot of New Jersey-specific news unless they plan to extend Kyle Palmieri, Nikita Gusev, Travis Zajac, or Connor Carrick (all players with deals ending in 2020-21) next week. New head coach Lindy Ruff has to meet and sort out his staff with Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has to sort out who will be his assistant GM among other personnel decisions. As we learn when things are set to happen with respect to free agency and the draft, they need to adjust their plans appropriately. Things will happen, but not likely in the coming week or two. That is OK. There is time until 2020-21 comes into vision. (December 2020? January 2021?) We know that there will be hockey in the near future and a CBA set in place for the next six years regardless.

What do you make of today’s vote? Are you surprised that we will not have a lockout or a risk of one in 2022? What part of the new CBA or the Return to Play format stuck out to you? Will you still boo Gary Bettman in light of this accomplishment? (I know you’re not going to boo the Devils’ NHLPA player representative, who is The Pride of Montvale, New Jersey.)

Most of all, what do you want us to do with the NHL returning to play later this Summer? In the past, I would just throw up a general open thread for all playoff games to house that discussion. However, I never asked you, the People Who Matter, what you would want. So I am asking what you would like to see at AAtJ for when the NHL returns to play? Daily posts for game discussion? More in-depth posts covering the Vancouver-Minnesota and/or Nashville-Arizona series since they are relevant to New Jersey’s interests? The standard one open thread for it? What would you like us to do for it? Please let us know in the comments. Thank you for reading.