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NHL and NHLPA vote in favour of CBA extension and return to play protocol

This afternoon, hockey insiders everywhere are reporting that the NHL and NHLPA have voted in favour of the long-discussed CBA extension as well as the league’s return to play protocol.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve written thousands of words and countless articles about the NHL’s return to play protocol which is set to move into Phase 3 on Monday with training camps reopening at rinks around the continent. We’ve also spoken at length about a possible CBA extension that will see labour peace in the NHL until at least 2026 as the league and its players try to navigate what is undoubtedly an unprecedented time in league history. Well, it is now being reported that the National Hockey League and NHLPA have voted in favour of both extending the CBA as well as the return to play protocol that will see the 2019-20 season resume on August 1st with the commencement of the play-in rounds.

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So outside of watching summer hockey and ensuring that there would be no further lockouts in the immediate future, what exactly does this vote mean? TSN’s Bob McKenzie broke it all down in a series of tweets earlier in the day before the decision was announced:

It’s Ratification(?) Friday, when NHL/NHLPA will ratify or reject the RTP protocols/CBA extension. It’s an all or nothing proposition. Accept it all — an effort to finish 2019-20, a 6-year framework to weather economic fallout of the pandemic, and labour peace — or reject it all. If both the NHL (Board of Governors) and the NHLPA rank-and-file vote to ratify the agreement(s), a formal announcement could come as early as this evening. On the NHL side, it’s virtually unheard of for the governors to vote against something that has been endorsed by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. On the player side, given the sheer number of players voting, there’s bound to be opposition. Some players don’t like the RTP (Return to Play). Some don’t like the CBA. Is the critical mass great enough to get to 51 per cent of the membership?

There are no doubt a lot of unhappy players. What’s to be happy about? The bottom has dropped out of their economy. In a hard-cap system with a 50-50 split of Hockey Related Revenue where HRR has been decimated, and may continue to be in the short term, it will be costly. The real question is what happens if the players did reject the agreement(s)? I don’t believe it’s possible to reject this deal and immediately return to the bargaining table. It’s now or never for 2019-20 RTP and this CBA extension. It’s a package deal. A rejection would mean no conclusion to 2019-20 season. No 2019-20 season would add to the loss of HRR, creating a further negative impact on players and owners. No RTP, no CBA extension, so there would be two more seasons under the existing CBA.

One of those two seasons, 2020-21, won’t start until later in the fall or perhaps winter and it’s unknown now whether it will include no fans or some fans and the negative impact on HRR quite conceivably will continue. Depending on who you talk/whose numbers you use, there’s “talk” that starting next season without a CBA extension/transition rules could mean an NHL salary cap in $60M to $65M range with escrow rates north of 50 per cent. I don’t vouch for those #’s but forecasts would be dire. Then there would be one more season under old CBA before it expires. And then what? Lockout? No one knows but it’s difficult to imagine it being pleasant/profitable. So it’s not just a matter of voting on a six-year agreement, it’s contemplating the alternative for the next two.

As you can see, there was a lot more meat to this vote than simply deciding on whether or not the playoffs would be back and the CBA extended. What this tells me is that the league and players both recognized that concessions and compromises needed to be made for the greater good of the league. I mean, selfishly, I don’t think there’s any question how excited many of us are about the idea of watching some summer hockey and living a lockout-less life for the next six years, but I also recognize that there’s a lot more to the story than that, especially when it comes to the business side of the game. With countless questions that will need to be answered in terms of what the next year+ is going to look like, the NHL and NHLPA needed to find a middle ground to ensure the health and stability of the league through what will unquestionably a difficult time in the immediate future and I’m incredibly happy that they were able to do that. All-in-all, this is wonderful news for hockey fans everywhere. Let’s drop the puck.