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NHL and NHLPA Tentatively Agree to a Return to Play Format and Four Year CBA Extension

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After weeks of negotiation, the NHL and the NHLPA tentatively agreed to a four-year extension of the current Contract Bargaining Agreement as well as the Return to Play format. Both will be voted on in coming days; here are the details in the meantime.

2020 NHL Draft Lottery
Gary Bettman was sitting for this pre-draft lottery interview. He was sitting at the negotiating table a lot last week and those efforts borne fruit today.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/NHLI via Getty Images

Last week, the news in the hockey world centered around two topics: the Return to Play format and schedule and an extension to the Contract Bargaining Agreement. Earlier today, both the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players Association agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding for the CBA extension of four years. This would take the current CBA that was to expire in after the 2021-22 season and push its expiration date to after the 2025-26 season. This was negotiated in conjunction with the details for the Return to Play format. This agreement is tentative and needs to be ratified before it takes full effect. In other words, the players and the NHL Board of Governors need to vote in favor of what was agreed upon in negotiation. As clarified in this post about the news at the Devils’ official website by Amanda Stein, both are packaged together - either both will be approved or both will not be approved.

This is stunning news. As a hockey fan since 1993, you could set your watch to labor strife in the NHL. Lockouts became expected when CBAs would expire and, sure enough, they did. Parts of seasons have been lost. In 2004-05, the battle over implementing a hard salary cap cost the entire season. Given the past history of the NHLPA, could you blame the players for standing pat as much as possible? Given that fans came back in droves and collectively provided more revenue after each stoppage, could you blame the NHL for continuing to do what works? That both sides came to an agreement on a CBA extension ahead of the current CBA expiring amidst planning to play in the wake of an unprecedented global pandemic is remarkable. I would never have predicted it.

Of course, the cynics are not defeated just yet. There is still time for things to go awry. The ratification vote, which is to be done within the next 72 hours, may falter. Unlike the Return to Play protocol, there will be a vote that involves the entire NHLPA, pending NHLPA Executive Board (who approved the initial protocol) and NHL Board of Governor approval. this. Players may decide that even with training camps planned to begin very soon to put their foot down yet again to force some other changes. The Devils and six other teams are not going to be involved in this return, so the player votes from those franchises will be focused on the CBA. If they are not on board, then this ratification vote could get dicey. Of course, if there is dissent from the NHL Board of Governors or the NHLPA Executive Board before then, then there is further work that needs to be done before the full player vote.

I do not wish to be so cynical. My surprise if more pleasant than anything else. Instead of heading into a near future with a new franchise in Seattle and a soon-to-be-expired national television contract with an expiring CBA and expected labor strife, both sides have decided to be proactive for a change. Instead of public back-biting online and offline as we have seen in other leagues, things have been much more peaceful. There were concessions made by both sides, driven by the CoVID-19 pandemic, with plans in place on how to make things right in the future. Perhaps things would not be so peaceful in 2026, but there is little downside to making agreements for the future today instead of waiting until they need to be done. Likewise, there is little downside to giving labor peace a chance.

The changes to the CBA are rather notable and absolutely impact the New Jersey Devils along with all other 30 teams. If you have been following Elliotte Friedman, Frank Seravalli, Renaud Lavoie, and Bob McKenzie on Twitter, then you have been aware of how much they have reported on in the past week regarding both the Return to Play plans and the new CBA. In the wake of the league’s announcement, McKenzie pointed to Seravalli’s summary of what is changing in the CBA at TSN. Here are the key points from it that impact all 31 teams (soon to be 32) in the NHL:

  • Phase Two of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery will take place on August 10. Winner will get Alexis Lafreniere. Let us hope Arizona does not win it, Our Hated Rivals do not win it, and Vancouver is not involved at all.
  • The 2020 NHL Draft will take place in mid-October. A specific date has yet to be determined. This means the draft will take place within the first few months of European hockey and major junior hockey - assuming they take place at all.
  • Free Agency Frenzy will be on November 1, 2020. That is a Sunday, by the way.
  • The salary cap ceiling will be kept at $81.5 million for 2020-21 and stay there until the hockey-related revenue exceeds $4.8 billion.
  • NHL players can participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China and, depending on negotiations with the IOC and IIHF, the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan, Italy. Olympic hockey will return in two years barring any further issues.
  • No-trade and no-movement clauses will travel with players in a trade, even if they are waived to make the trade happen. For example, if the Devils were to trade Travis Zajac somehow, then the new team has his no-trade clause to deal with going forward - even though Zajac waived it to make the deal happen at all.
  • Players are deferring 10% of their salary and signing bonus money from 2020-21 but will be paid back in three equal installments in 2023-24, 2024-25, 2025-26.
  • Players coming in from Europe do not need to clear waivers if they signed their NHL contracts before December 15 of that season.
  • The NHL minimum salary will increase from $700,000 to $750,000 for the next four seasons. It will go up to $775,000 in 2024-25 and $800,000 in 2025-26. Keep this in mind for depth players and future call-ups. With a flat cap, this is not an insignificant change.
  • The salary for contracts at least six seasons long and worth at least 7% cannot be higher than 35% between the highest and lowest salary seasons. Before, it could be as much as 50%. This effectively cuts down on front-loaded deals even further.

This is a lot to chew on and we will be writing more in depth about the changes and how it relates to the Devils next week, provided this is ratified. Nevertheless, I see this as good news. This agreement means we are closer to having hockey return, even if it does not involve the Devils. This agreement means that the union and the owners were thinking long-term and not just whatever needs to be done now. If ratified, it means one less lockout to worry about in the near future. Again, 2026 may be a different story but having that strife to be concerned about in six years is better than needing to be concerned about it in two. Selfishly, I would like an agreement to take place just for that alone.

The players and the Board of Governors can, should, and will vote on this based on their interests. We shall soon see if it is ratified or if the agreements go back to the negotiating table to smooth out any other details. In the meantime, I would like to know what you all think about this announcement and the proposed changes to the CBA in this four year extension. Which parts of it do you like the most? What changes do you not like? Do you think this will get ratified? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the tentatively-agreed upon CBA extension in the comments. Thank you for reading.